The St Charles County Council is scheduled to vote this evening on whether or not to place on the August 2012 ballot the “populist” county-wide smoking ban.  I believe they have good intentions, but we all know where the road paved with good intentions leads to and this issue is no different.

The proposed St Charles County smoking ban would eliminate smoking in all PRIVATE businesses except the Ameristar Casino.  Allowing an exemption for one business does not create a level playing field for all other businesses.  In fact, it shows a contempt for the other businesses that choose to allow smoking.  But then, government often shows contempt for businesses while wanting them to pay taxes.  All of this does not take into account the fact that government at all levels should stay out of private business decisions such as allowing smoking.

The County Council has the power to implement a smoking ban right now.  If they are, in fact, doing this for “health” concerns, why are they waiting until August 2012?  We know it’s not because they didn’t know or think about that fact.  Councilman Paul Wynn, an opponent of stealing liberty from the citizens and businesses of St Charles County, offered an amendment to implement the ban immediately.  Now surely that amendment passed with the concern for citizens’ health being the prime objective of the proposal.  It didn’t.

All of the political machinations that have taken place so far on the issue within the Council clearly would lead one to believe this proposal is more of a “me too” action rather than good policy.  It appears that at least four of the Council members think that good politics and good policy are always the same.  They are not.

Even the Missouri House understood that taking a seemingly “populist” position on a smoking ban was not good policy or a legitimate function of government.  The House refused to adopt an amendment that would ban smoking statewide by a vote of 36-97.  It’s unfortunate that local governments like the County Council continue to take away the liberties of individuals and businesses by implementing such bans.

Part of the problem is that those who insist on allowing the tyranny of the majority to function believe we live in a democracy rather than a republic. In any system of democracy, there is a recurrent threat that the majority will somehow or someway punish a politically unpopular minority. Smoking bans are a very clear manifestation of that threat.

We usually see this type of vilification of otherwise legal activities by politicians singling out a specific industry as a revenue source.  A good example is the oil industry, and the infamous “windfall profits” proposals at the state and federal levels to punish oil and gas companies for so-called evil profits.  Unfortunately, most people don’t get upset because they don’t understand the impact on them economically and because it’s “big oil” under attack, not them.

Well, they are coming after you now whether you realize it or not, whether you smoke or not.  Every time you allow government to propose and enact such “feel-good” measures and “ask” the voters to confirm it, you are losing a bit of your liberty each time.

Smoking bans are often sold as a “health issue.” Smoking is hazardous to your health.  Many of the people who support smoking bans have sad, personal stories to tell about the impacts of smoking.  However, it was a decision they made for themselves.  Perhaps they didn’t have all the information about the dangers of smoking at the time, but all the data is available now. But it is amazing that “we” are so willing to let government make our decisions about our activities.

Smoking bans are also representative of the failure of anti-tobacco proponents to get tobacco made an illegal substance.  The fact that smoking ban policies are  aimed at “big tobacco” is clear.  The problem is that these bans don’t affect “big tobacco,” but specific groups of real people, primarily small business owners. The populist thinking is that smoking is widely disapproved so why not punish all involved? Just as with inordinately taxing big oil, there are significant public policy problems associated with this thinking.

Government interference in a specific activity, such as smoking, unavoidably interferes with the normal function of the marketplace and is likely to have a grievous effect on small businesses and the jobs provided by those small businesses.

Legendary French economist and philosopher Frederic Bastiat would say this government sanctioned confiscation and intrusion into business is nothing more than “legal plunder.” Unfortunately, with politically-charged topics such as smoking bans, it’s easy for some public policy leaders to lose sight of basic economic realities.  This certainly describes the St Charles County Council’s position on the proposed smoking ban.

As with anything dealing with government, they are not satisfied with attacking the “big” guys. Now they are coming after the little guys, that’s you and me, whether we smoke or not.

Editor’s note: Carl Bearden served on the St Charles County Council from 1992-2000. He served as the first chairman of the County Council from 1993–1996.  (Cronin1)