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Smoking Bans Hit at Basic American Values

November 1, 2006
By Mike Frazier

Decatur Herald & Review October 10, 2006 circ. 35,799 DECATUR - Basic American values are under assault in the war on smoking, a free-market expert told local bar and restaurant owners on Monday.

two tumblers with liquor and a lit cigarrette

Decatur Herald & Review
October 10, 2006
circ. 35,799

DECATUR - Basic American values are under assault in the war on smoking, a free-market expert told local bar and restaurant owners on Monday.

“This isn’t about smokers’ rights,” said Joseph Bast, president of The Heartland Institute, a Chicago-based free-market think tank. “It’s about property rights, individual choice, and individual responsibility. These are important, basic American values.”

The Decatur Area Retail Liquor Association sponsored Bast’s noon talk at the Beach House restaurant. Bar and restaurant owners have mobilized in recent weeks to oppose a countywide smoking ban proposed by the Macon County Board of Health.

Owners’ concerns are well-founded, Bast said.

“Bans really do hurt bars and restaurants,” Bast said.

The proposed ban would outlaw smoking in nearly 600 county establishments including restaurants, bars, bowling alleys, bingo halls, grocery stores, and day care centers.

The county board of health recommended in recent months stiffening the county’s food sanitation regulations to prohibit smoking in all areas of food establishment premises “without exception.”

The ban also would cover all outdoor areas where food is served and a “presumptively reasonable minimum distance” of 15 feet from entrances, exits, opening windows, and ventilation intakes.

A ban would have to be approved by the Macon County Board.

The county health board voted last month to table until December a resolution to ban smoking countywide before forwarding it to a committee of the county board.

Bast said the health risks of secondhand smoke are “vastly exaggerated” and the public isn’t leading the charge for smoking bans.

“The voices that you hear are coming from a very small minority,” Bast said. “Most of them are working full time to demonize smoking.”

Anti-smoking forces aren’t going to quit with a ban on smoking in bars and restaurants, Bast said.

“They’re going to come back and say, ‘Let’s expand the ban,’” Bast said. “Let’s include all restaurants, all bars. Let’s include all public spaces. Let’s include the parks. Let’s include the lakefronts.

“They’re going to want to ban it in condominiums, in cars. They’re going to want to allow whether or not a spouse smokes to be part of the decision about whether or not you get custody of your kid in the case of divorce.”

Dr. Howard Stone, a member of the county health board, said the group’s job is to maintain and improve the health of the community.

Stone said he has seen up close the devastating health effects of smoking.

He cited a study of the economic effects of a smoking ban on bars and restaurants in California. Tax receipts increased 4 percent after the ban was enacted, Stone said.

But retail sales in California during the same period went up 8 percent, Bast responded.

“The effect of the smoking ban was to halve sales in restaurants and bars,” Bast said. “It had a serious negative impact on commerce in the bars. They grew by half the rate of the rest of the economy.”

Bast does not object to banning smoking in places such as courtrooms, public buildings, buses, and trains.

“The problem is banning it in places where people go voluntarily and where they have choices,” Bast said. “The anti-smoking guys are basically following smokers into their last retreats--the last places where they can smoke--and trying to ban it in those places too.

“That can’t be justified by the effects of smoking on nonsmokers. It’s a voluntary choice. More times than not, nonsmokers aren’t there.

“It’s strictly a nanny state, ‘we will protect you despite your own choices’ attitude. I just have a really hard time understanding the justification for government doing things like that.”

John Phillips, owner of Gregory’s Grill, urged both sides to continue to discuss the issue in a civil manner.

“We are reasonable, rational people, who are not demons,” Phillips said.

Phillips is concerned about the economic effect of a ban.

“I believe 10 bar/restaurant combinations will close, absolutely, as a result of this ban,” Phillips said. “And I think mine will be one of them, so I’ve got a dog in this fight.”

Bar and restaurant owners will back candidates to the county board who oppose the smoking ban, Phillips said. A “very large number” of candidates have said they oppose a smoking ban, Phillips said.

“Seven of them are Democrats and eight of them are Republicans,” Phillips said. “This is not an issue that has anything to do with political persuasion.”

Mike Frazier is a staff writer for the Decatur Herald-Review. He can be reached at or 217/421-7985.