Saturday, July 09, 2005

Smoking Bans

Washington D.C.'s city council recently voted to enact a smoking ban in all bars and restaurants. Here in my hometown of Saskatoon, I smoking ban in all buildings open to the public was put into effect as of January 1st, so this is my first time experiencing it as a smoke-free city. (And in the interests of full disclosure, I must admit that I love it, experience-wise, despite my philosophical discomfort with it). Which got me thinking about alternatives to a complete ban on smoking, which is a heavy-handed method for achieving something the market should be able to provide (in theory). Ideally, the owners of the bars should able to decide if their establishment allows smoking. But it is suprising, given the majority of the population that are non-smokers, that more places haven't taken this route. Therein steps the government.

So here's my thoughts on the matter: how about a plan where a civic government issues a certain number of tradeable permits for smoking establishments? If, for instance, there were 100 bars in a city, the city could issue 50 smoking permits. The different bars could bid on these, and those that valued the permits the most would get them. Bar owners are constantly saying that smoking bans hurt their bottom line, so this is a chance to put their money where their mouth is. The city would achieve what is in my mind a desireable outcome: a mix of smoking and non-smoking bars. Then consumers could make the decision to patronize either smoking or non-smoking establishments, and the market should take care of the rest by either driving up the price of the permits if they are indeed desireably, or by making them cheaper if non-smoking bars are more successful.

Of course, this isn't an ideal situation in terms of liberty, but it's an improvement on a total ban, in my opinion. It's an economic solution to the problem. And as much as it hurts me to say this, civic governments could generate a bit of revenue from the sale of the permits.

Comments are welcome - I'd love to hear your thoughts on this idea.


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