Sad to say, but when select members of Louisiana’s House of Representatives had a chance to affirm individual rights, they appeared to have sold out over revenue concerns.
The House Health and Welfare Committee extinguished SB 348 by Sen. Rob Marionneaux which would have prohibited smoking in any indoor facility over which the state has total sovereignty. Members voting to defer involuntarily the bill did not speak publicly about their reasons why, but it seemed clear that by denying smoking in bars and most parts of gaming operations licensed by the state they feared it would curtail business at those establishments.
One could make an argument that limiting business particularly in casinos could be a good thing, but these establishments pump in hundreds of millions of dollars a year in state and local taxes. It’s possible that, given this volume, even a relatively small portion of business lost could cost the state at least $10 million in tax revenues, although many studies dispute whether there is any loss at all as people adjust their smoking habits to compensate and others who previously refused to patronize these places begin to do so motivated without having to put up with the annoyance of smoking.
But even if it is believable that revenues will take a hit over the bill, there are arguments against taking lucre over other concerns. While the bill’s main proponents couched their support in terms of health concerns, a more compelling point is that to allow smoking in these public places to continue violates both civil liberties and civil rights concerns.
Regarding civil liberties, it becomes a question of competing rights. One group wishes to smoke in public establishments to fulfill an addiction while another does not want to deal with the deleterious effects of the smoke. Such desires are mutually exclusive when in a public indoor space, so a decision has to be made which group to favor.
On the side of smokers, you could argue that it restricts their ability to indulge and if that bothers others, they don’t have to be around that by not patronizing such establishments where it occurs. However, a more compelling case is on the side of disallowing smoking, because some people suffer from pulmonary disorders that cause immediate, even fatal, distress when encountering cigarette or cigar smoke. In effect, these people cannot patronize certain places of public commerce because they are not physically able to be in those places where smoking occurs. And, given unregulated market dictates, this essentially shuts them out from being in casinos or establishments that offer alcohol but that do not serve a certain amount of food.
In fact, while this group’s only option to choose is never to be able to patronize these places, smokers have a wider range of less intrusive choices. Since their behavior is not a matter of their own health, they may choose not to smoke in smoke-free places or not to patronize them. Given that this matter is one of life or death for some and not one for smokers, and that smokers may exercise a greater range of choice even with enforcement of non-smoking regulations than the greater restrictions foisted on others by the allowing of smoking, the lesser burden is placed upon those who want to smoke and therefore their rights should be subordinate to the rights of those who can’t remain healthy with smoke around.
The civil rights argument is even more compelling to ban smoking. People with pulmonary problems (ironically, some having gotten that way likely because of smoking) to a severe degree are legally disabled under the terms of the Americans with Disabilities Act. This federal law mandates that reasonable accommodation be made to the disabled by the purveyors of public commerce. It seems entirely reasonable to ban smoking in any indoor facility under these guidelines. An alternative would be to allow smoking outside of a facility, meaning a bar. For example, one could build a patio area connected by a door into the building and allow smoking out there, like some restaurants do already. This would be akin to building ramps, wider doors, etc. to accommodate the disabled.
Given the existing attitudes of too many legislators, perhaps proponents of banning smoking should file a lawsuit in federal court under the ADA if there’s going to be progress made. In any event, it is shameful that a few House members chose to endorse, for whatever reason, a failure to secure the civil liberties and to protect civil rights of some of society’s most vulnerable members.