EDITORIAL: Individual rights vs. the public good
Jan 14, 2014 | 6946 views | 0 0 comments | 331 331 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Fifty years after the first warnings from the Surgeon General about the hazards of tobacco usage, yet another attempt to stamp out smoking in public places throughout Kentucky is in the legislative mill in Frankfort, and the outlook for passage this time is promising.

More than 60 percent of Kentuckians are in favor of such a prohibition, survey results show.

By this point in time, it’s strictly a fill-in measure for those parts of the state not already under prohibition via local statutes.

Paducah, Mayfield and Hopkinsville are among far western Kentucky cities that have implanted ordinances that, essentially, allow smoking only in strictly non-public areas.

The negative effects on the health of tobacco users are beyond debate, and exposure to second-hand smoke for those who don’t smoke can clearly be an aggravation and poses a health hazard as well.

It would be preferable to allow individuals to make choices for themselves rather than have their options dictated by government. From all indications, the free market, in concert with a half century of high-octane public relations condemning the use of tobacco, is working its way toward the desired goal. Cigarette smoking is in dramatic decline in comparison to the years before those 1964 warnings.

A story in last week’s edition of The Tribune-Courier related how several Benton restaurants have made the decision to prohibit smoking and are satisfied that the policy change has had little effect on their business.

They acknowledge that they may have lost some customers who wanted to smoke, but have gained others who previously avoided businesses where smoking was permitted.

The free market provides the option of choosing a smoking environment – just as people had the right to consider the Surgeon General warnings and other anti-smoking messages, and decide for themselves whether they wanted to smoke anyway.

Individual freedom, obviously, has to be compared against the rights of others who are impacted by each individual’s desires and choices, and restricted accordingly. The chief selling point now is the danger of second-hand smoke to those who don’t use tobacco, but who are exposed to it when smokers practice their habit in public.

That’s a compelling argument, perhaps strong enough to warrant a state law.

If so, we’d prefer to see a strict limitation rather than an outright prohibition. Just such an amendment to House Bill 193 has been offered by Rep. Jim Gooch Jr., a Democrat from Providence who has suggested that certain establishments, including bars and pubs that do not serve customers under age 21, be exempt from the smoking ban.

As noted, public health is an important issue. But so is the erosion of personal liberty.

Necessarily, liberty for all has to be a somewhat limited concept. Government at all level has to attempt to balance individuals’ rights to make their own decisions against the overall good of the community.

The real test is whether the public and its elected representatives are willing to defend something which is unpopular, or of which they personally disapprove.

Government already has a grossly exaggerated amount of control over our private lives. We learn more about that every day, it seems.

State legislators, and the voters who elected them, are advised to tread carefully when it comes to restricting – or prohibiting – the actions of a supposedly free citizenry.
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