Freedom of Choice

Dr. Malcolm Cross
Dr. Malcolm Cross

It was recently announced that beginning May 1, smoking in Jake and Dorothy’s is prohibited. Since I neither smoke nor care whether others smoke, the decision to ban smoking there means little to me. Of far greater importance is that the decision was not that of the government, but of the restaurant owner herself. This is especially important, given past discussions in the city council concerning the degree to which owners of private property may decide how to use their own property.

At least twice in recent memory the city council has discussed the possibility of passing an ordinance to ban smoking in restaurants. Now I have no objection to smoking bans in public buildings—city hall, county offices, any Tarleton building, whatever. After all, almost everyone has to go to a government facility some time, and nobody should be exposed to tobacco smoke against his will. This is the same case for vaping; is there some etiquette to follow when vaping our favorite e-juice? In certain places, yes, there most certainly is. It’s no secret that vaping can be used as stop smoking aid however. If you are thinking of making the switch from regular cigarettes to vaping, then doing some research into the many e-cigarette devices and e-liquid flavours such as those in the Humble juice range could be an excellent place to start.

But a restaurant is different. It’s privately owned. Nobody has to dine there. Decisions on smoking in a restaurant should be those of the restaurant owner herself, with the obvious proviso that she incurs the benefits and costs alone. So if a restaurant owner wants to ban smoking everywhere, or somewhere, or nowhere, that’s her right. If she wins more customers with her policies, she deserves the credit. If she loses customers, too bad, so sad. It’s nobody’s problem but hers.

Now science shows that smoking can be dangerous to the health not only of the smoker, but to those in the smoker’s presence—hence the rationale for greater government control over smoking. But so what? Customers who choose to dine there voluntarily assume the risks. And those unwilling to assume the risks can easily avoid them by going elsewhere. Whatever benefits there may be to government control of smoking on private premises must be weighed against the dangers posed by the growth of government power to make and enforce those decisions, and the concomitant decline in the freedom of individuals to make their own make decisions and abide by their results.

The same principle applies to serving alcohol at restaurants. A few weeks ago I wrote of the city council’s decision to postpone a decision on whether to rezone a location to permit someone to open a restaurant which would offer alcohol with its meals. The ostensible reason for the delay was a concern over available parking. But the decision brought to mind city council efforts in earlier years to prohibit alcohol sales in established or prospective restaurants where zoning requirements otherwise allowed them. Arguments frequently focused on the harm alcohol can cause to those who abuse it, as well as their families. But on the city council I always argued that if a restaurateur meets all the legal and zoning requirements to sell alcohol, the city council must not prohibit it from doing so, and that customers could choose for themselves whether to drink or abstain. Otherwise, the benefits to having the government limit the use of alcohol would be outweighed by the threat to freedom posed by a more powerful government limiting the right of adults to legally sell, buy, and consume a legal substance.

Freedom’s never free. Freedom always costs, although the costs may be unpredictable. No matter whether a restaurateur bans or allows smoking, or withholds or offers alcohol, she’ll incur rejection from those who dislike her decisions, and acceptance from those who approve. And no matter whether an adult chooses to smoke, or drink, or do both, or neither, he will incur costs and benefits to whatever course of action he chooses. But all adults should be allowed to make their own business and lifestyle decisions, provided they neither hurt anyone nor diminish anyone else’s rights, and provided they accept the consequences, both good and bad, of their actions. We do not need any nanny state diminishing our freedom for us.

Malcolm L. Cross has lived in Stephenville and taught politics and government at Tarleton since 1987. His political and civic activities include service on the Stephenville City Council (2000-2014) and on the Erath County Republican Executive Committee (1990 to the present). He was Mayor Pro Tem of Stephenville from 2008 to 2014. He is a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and the Stephenville Rotary Club, and does volunteer work for the Boy Scouts of America. Views expressed in this column are his and do not reflect those of The Flash as a whole.

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