Shreveport’s pending decision to enact a partial smoking ban in bars exposes the complex politics behind these.
This week, the City Council engaged in the first reading of an ordinance that would build on existing state law and corresponding city ordinance regarding smoking in public places. It would extend a ban on indoor smoking at bars and include vaping as a form of smoking, but would exempt cigar and hookah bars.
Appropriately, the more conservative members of the Council brought this forward. In justifying smoking in public, supporters often allege conservative principles back that preference, but that contention relies on misappropriating the foundations of liberalism.
In the main, conservatism addresses noninterference in people’s lives, principally in preventing government from empowering one group to impose its preferential behavior of chosen actions on others that affects the latter, at a very fundamental level, adversely. For example, government should not penalize someone for refusing to contract themselves for a certain task based on sincerely-held religious viewpoints that would be violated by completing the task (see Masterpiece Cakeshop).
It’s the same with smoking. Putting aside the fact that the airborne product of smoking (and perhaps vaping) is associated with cancer, with certainty it causes negative health reactions to individuals suffering from impaired breathing, from asthma to COPD and all points in between. Why should people with breathing complications, which when acquired they cannot help, be prevented from enjoying the same commercial activities because of individuals who make such interaction impossible through their own voluntary and discretionary activity? Or, for that matter, limit employment opportunities for outgroup members?
A liberal would argue that people have a “right” to smoke which government should support by allowing businesses to permit such activity, while conservatives would maintain that this privileging inappropriately prefers the assertion far less logically and justifiably of one group’s ability to interfere with outgroup members to enjoy similar social interaction. Just as the left would support government’s subsidizing one group’s ability to force its political views to alter another’s behavior which originates from the exercise of fundamental political liberties, the right would endorse government in its preventing the behavioral consequences of one group’s assertion from adversely affecting others from enjoying their exercise of basic liberties.
But the politics of gambling muddies this clear-cut calculus. In the other two major markets that have implemented a similar indoor ban except for establishments specifically catering to smoking, Baton Rouge and New Orleans, they included riverboat casinos. The Shreveport proposal exempts these. (In New Orleans, the land-based casino still permits smoking outdoors limited to playing slots and blackjack.)
Highlighted by the recent closure of DiamondJacks Casino across the Red River, the Shreveport/Bossier market has been in a state of decline for two decades, and the industry has outsized economic importance in the region. By contrast, the relatively small footprint of gambling in the two larger metropolitan areas gave the industry much less leverage to have an exception carved for them. This clout likely prompted the exception made for the Shreveport pair out of fear of more deterioration of this industry (which, unlike bars, sucks in out-of-state patrons), but reasonably has raised complaints of unequal treatment favoring two large out-of-state corporations at the expense of local businesses.
Yet the argument that the discrimination against some businesses to favor others by providing smokers an incentive to flee certain places to flock to others fails to scuttle the entire idea. Regardless that the principle still matters – those engaging in voluntary behavior should not retain privilege over those adversely affected by it through no fault of their own in the enjoyment of similar liberties – regardless of scale, even if casinos were included in this instance another confounding element exists: Bossier City. At 40 percent of Shreveport’s population, it shows no signs of not letting bars and its three surviving casinos privilege smokers. So, for those people addicted enough to smoking that they have export it to drinking on the town, the playing field in the metropolitan sense still would remain unlevel.
Shreveport can’t control what Bossier City does, but it does rule the roost in its own back yard. Ideally, it would add casinos to the indoor places serving booze with smoking/vaping banned. But even if not, it is immoral to let the reasonably healthy engaging in voluntary destructive behavior externalize the consequences of that effectively to bar those involuntarily suffering health complications from enjoying the same commercial engagement, social interaction, or employment possibility. Even in its present form, pass the ordinance.