Smoking Regulations Or A Smoking Ban?

One thing I’ve yet to see from someone supporting bar and club smoking bans is a serious attempt to justify a ban as such. Even assuming that you’ve established that there’s a public interest in, say, protecting waiters from smoke, and that this interest justifies regulations, you still have to show that you can’t achieve your goal with something weaker than a ban. If incentives or regulatory “nudges” do roughly the same work, then they’re to be preferred.

In the case of smoking bans, there are a lot of replacement options, and it’s a heavy burden to argue that they wouldn’t suffice. Here are a few ideas I’ve brainstormed–someone more familiar with restaurant or OSHA regulations could surely find more:

  1. Require expensive licenses for bars that allow smoking
  2. Auction a limited number of smoking permits
  3. Mandate a wage-supplement for servers and bartenders in smoking restaurants (perhaps this wouldn’t work because it couldn’t apply to cooks, etc).

Bear in mind that roughly a third of the American public smokes, and food service workers are presumably no exception. There’s little reason to worry about them being exposed to second-hand smoke, so even a regulatory regime that leaves a substantial fraction of bars might be compatible with protection for workers.

There’s a lot of variance in state and local smoking bans, so this challenge applies quite differenly to them. Pennsylvania, for instance, allows smoking in any establishment that makes more than a certain percent (80% maybe?) of its income from alcohol sales. Such laws are much more forgiving, and I legitimately can’t be too bothered by them. That said, I think that they could still be better. Once you’ve admitted that some bars can have smoking, why is the relevant feature the percentage of income coming from booze?


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