The Corner

Cheers For The Enforcers

The New York Times, always reliable cheerleaders for big government meddling, have come up with a puff piece (sorry) marking the second anniversary of Nurse Bloomberg’s smoking ban. Equally predictably, the Washington Monthly’s Kevin Drum applauds this “triumph of pragmatism over libertarianism” with a judicious selection of quotations culled from the article.

But there are others that are worth considering too:

“There are still those cursing the ban as an affront to their civil liberties, and some bar and restaurant owners say that it has undoubtedly caused a decline in business. City officials say they doubt that contention, pointing to data from the first year of the ban showing that restaurant and bar tax receipts were up 8.7 percent over the previous year’s. They said they were still waiting for more detailed and current data from the state.”

That 8.7 percent is a pretty meaningless statistic for any number of reasons. To start with: (1) it includes all restaurants even those (the majority, in fact) that prohibited smoking before Bloomberg’s final ban. A more interesting statistic would be to compare the tax receipts from bars that allowed smoking before, but prohibit it now; (2) it is not adjusted to reflect the increase in restaurant prices (the tax, remember is paid on a percentage of the total bill); and (3) it takes no account of the impact of the general recovery in the economy since then.

And then there’s this:

“Mr. Crooks, an owner of Toad Hall, said he was far more worried about a falloff in business of at least 10 percent, which he said was a result of the new smoking ordinance. “It hurt the volume of business,” Mr. Crooks said. While such complaints were once more common, and perhaps more heated, there are still plenty of them. “It hurts,” said John Mulvey, owner of Bridget’s Public House on Staten Island. Public acceptance of the ban has “come around a little bit,” Mr. Mulvey said. Business was off 25 percent right after the ban took effect, he said, but now that decline has stabilized at about 5 percent. And while Mr. Mulvey is no longer furious over the anti-smoking ordinance, he says it bothers him that he is not free to run his business as he sees fit – without government intervention.”

Mr. Mulvey is right to be bothered. Bars were always free to ban smoking and, if their business had suffered because their customers really cared about all the smoke, they would have done. But the customers didn’t care that much. The people who did care were either those sad, hapless neurotics who genuinely believed that ‘passive smoking’ was a meaningful threat to their health, or those bullies (Bloomberg, I’m talking about you) who wish to make a public demonstration of their virtue by pushing other people around.

Unfortunately, they won.

But the triumph, Kevin, was not of pragmatism over libertarianism, but of authoritarianism and hysteria over compromise and commonsense.

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