Friday, May 28, 2004

I just saw a story on KIRO-TV detailing the Pierce County, Washington, smoking ban and the city of Lakewood (in Pierce County) and others that have passed city ordinances allowing smoking in public places. In particular, the news story concentrated on the Grand Central Casino in Lakewood that has seen business plummet since the ban was enacted. In the story, a waitress at the casino showed a paycheck for the previous week with the ban in place, commenting that it was about one third the size of her normal paychecks, and her tips had decreased from 80-90 percent. The casino hosted a rally event, bringing in local bar and restaurant owners affected by the ban. County health officials came to casino, saw people smoking, and confronted the owners. The owners told them to cite them or leave - the health officials left, but a raid may be planned for the weekend.

We are seeing, in microcosm, the effects that well-intentioned but ill-considered laws passed by narrow-sighted "officials" have on business. Instead of making people healthier, they are causing businesses to close, people to lose jobs (and therefore health and other benefits), and the economy to suffer. The same forces being seen at work in Pierce County over this smoking ban work nation- and world-wide when environmental, health, and other regulations are forced on businesses in the absence of other market forces.

Health officials say it's too early to tell what the effects of the ban on business are, but for a small business owner, waiting for the health department to figure it out will be too late. What will the health department do once they figure out the effects on business are bad? Repeal the legislation and reinstate the businesses that failed while they were doing studies? Don't hold your breath.

If there is a need or requirement for smoke-free bars, restaurants, casinos, or other businesses, market forces will help create them. The smoking ban has already shown that there is a market desire for smoking establishments in Pierce County - why has this negative lesson been lost on Pierce County health officials? I guess since they didn't listen to the major protests that occurred before the regulation was passed, they don't have the sense to see what they're doing now.

And if you live in, or are visiting, western Washington (Seattle, Puget Sound area) this weekend, stop in the Grand Central Casino in Pierce County, drop a few bucks at a Blackjack table, and light one up for freedom, even if you don't smoke or gamble. I'll do my best to get down there this weekend. Civil disobedience is the last non-violent tool we have left to fight off the forces of tyranny, no matter how small or mean.

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