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Libertarians and the Smoking Ban


Bowling Green (hometown of newly elected Senator Rand Paul) just passed an ordinance to outlaw smoking in public places (there is an exemption for places like tobacco-centric establishments).  The law was passed by a 3-2 vote of the city commission; it had very vocal support from both sides.  I found it a bit odd (out of character may be a better word) that it was brought up by Commissioner Slim Nash who, on other occasions, has expressed many libertarian leanings. [Side note: I am generally a pretty liberal guy, but there are a lot of positions Libertarians take that I strongly support.]

The discussion around this local ordinance got me thinking.

I find it interesting when Libertarians complain about the passage of things like smoking bans.  Isn’t one of the main arguments of libertarianism that laws should be community specific?  I can’t even recall how many times my Libertarian friends have said, "Big government shouldn’t be deciding that, it should be left up to local communities."  The idea is that people can move to communities that share their ideals. Now, it seems to me that things like smoking bans are perfect examples of community based legislation enacted through the will of local communities.  If a business (like the VFW, who strongly opposed the legislation) doesn’t like the law, they are free to move outside city limits and not be covered by the rules.

Maybe I am missing the point, after all, I am not well read on the works of people like Ron Paul or Ayn Rand, but isn’t this a case of Libertarianism in action.  I can understand Libertarians opposing the law while it is up for discussion, but once it passes isn’t it a great example of community based legislation?

For the record, I have mixed feelings on the law, but wanted to post a few thoughts.

  1. April 20th, 2011 at 22:48 | #1

    The libertarians I know are not so concerned whether or not such a law is “community-based legislation” or passed down from the federal government. Rather, they reject the notion that any level of government, local or distant, has the right to tell a private business owner whether or not he or she can permit smoking in the establishment that the businessperson owns. (Of course, no one really owns their property. Try not paying your property taxes one year and see if the Sheriff comes knocking on your door, with his gun at his side, to evict you. Smoking bans…property taxes…It’s all about force.)…Enjoyed browsing your blog. Your in my prayers as you make preparations for Swaziland.

  2. April 21st, 2011 at 08:11 | #2

    I would fully expect a Libertarian to be opposed to any government intervention at any level, but that is not the question. I am interested in whether or not communal entities (neighborhoods, cities, states, nations) have the right to enforce certain standards. At some point it transitions from “evil big brother trying to run my life” to the standards we decide upon together. Where can community standards be set? Can the local church make rules? Can a neighborhood association charge fees? Can a city enforce a smoking ban? Can a state enact education standards? Can a nation create a social safety net for the elderly?

    When we deal with local entities, you always have the right to vote with your feet: leave the church, don’t buy a house in the neighborhood, open your business in another city, move to another state, go buy a private island…

    I am all for libertarians voting for their preference that the government has minimal/no intervention, but I can’t buy into the argument that “the government doesn’t have the right to tax/rule/ban/etc.” There is absolutely no president for that in the last few thousand years.

    While the founders certainly built liberty into the constitution,

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