How important is individual choice?
by Franklin Clark, Reporter --
Feb 13, 2013 | 41 41 recommendations | email to a friend | print
One of the more controversial items Governor Steve Beshear discussed in his State of the State Address on Wednesday was a proposed ban on smoking in public places.

There is a specific bill that will be discussed in the State House of Representatives - H.B. 190. The text of the bill can be found on the Kentucky Legislative Research Council’s web site at

It passed in the House’s Committee on Health and Welfare, but it’s the third year the bill has been proposed. There’s a story about it in this week’s Cadiz Record, a story that also talks about a study on the air quality of businesses in Trigg and other counties.

By now, the evidence from several decades of studies is incontrovertible, as much as some would like for it not to be. Secondhand smoke is dangerous even to people who haven’t smoked a day in their life. Even the tobacco companies admit this by now, although I’m sure there are still some anti-science people who are utterly and irrevocably convinced of its comparative harmlessness.

It’s very possible to accept the reality of the situation and disagree on what to do about it. You can accept the evidence that secondhand smoke is harmful and be for or against or even on the fence about a statewide public smoking ban.

Although I don’t know that it has any chance of passing, I’m not, strictly speaking against this, although I don’t know how necessary it is. I think the health benefits could conceivably outweigh the loss of any freedom, and possibly any economic costs. The bill isn’t banning the sale of cigarettes or the use of them at home, so I don’t know how much choice is being abrogated.

Some might point to alcohol being unhealthy, and they would be right. But it’s pretty much only unhealthy to people other than the drinker if that person is behind the wheel and intoxicated, which is already illegal. Public intoxication is already illegal as well.

On the other hand, proponents have made the argument that people don’t have a choice to breathe in the smoke when they frequent restaurants, and that doesn’t seem 100-percent accurate. It’s probably more accurate when applied to government buildings, though.

I can actually see why someone would be against this. There is an argument to be made that people’s and business’s choices shouldn’t be limited or taken away without a good reason. But let’s be honest; smokers aren’t exactly being oppressed.

And in my mind, this could be a sufficient reason. But I think the General Assembly should look at more pressing issues before they try to proceed with this, such as pension reform and the budget.

As I said before, there is merit to the choice argument in other areas as well. For example, I think businesses should be allowed to do business in languages other than English, should be allowed to ban firearms on their premises, should be allowed to sell violent video games and should be allowed to cater to non-Christians (e.g., selling Halal food to Muslims).

And of course, businesses should be allowed to sell tobacco products - which they will continue to be able to do if - and it’s a big if - this passes.

Franklin Clark is a reporter for the Cadiz Record and can be reached by email at
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