As a follow-up to my post below on Marriott's decision to eliminate smoking rooms, let me provide more fodder for deabte. First, here is Thomas Lambert's "The Case Against Smoking Bans" available on SSRN. The abstract reads as follows:
In recent months, numerous localities and states have banned smoking in public places (i.e., privately owned places to which members of the public are invited). Such sweeping bans are typically justified on grounds that they alleviate externalities, shape individuals' preferences in a desirable manner, and reduce risks. This essay rebuts the externality, preference-shaping, and risk-reduction arguments for smoking bans and contends that such bans are unnecessary and, on the whole, utility-reducing.For a somewhat different perspective, readers may want to look at the Surgeon General's new report "The Health Consequences of Involuntary Exposure to Tobacco Smoke." This report summarizes the research to date on secondhand smoke, and concludes, among other things, that a) secondhand smoke poses a health risk to non-smokers, b) there is no risk-free level of exposure, and c) the most effective way to prevent exposure is to prevent smoking.
The Surgeon General's findings do not necessarily lead to the conclusion that governments should adopt indoor smoking bans. We allow people to smoke and eat fatty foods and engage in many other risky activities (such as, in some states, ride motorcycles without helmets), under the assumption that individuals should be able to decide for themselves whether the risks are worth the benefits of the activity in question. One could decide to treat secondhand smoke in private estalbishments the same way. Consumers can decide whether they wish to frequent those places that allow smoking — they can decide whether the food, ambiance, noise level, trendiness, NFL Ticket subscription, pick-up scene, or whatever is worth the marginal risk. The same is true for workers. The Surgeon General notes that entertainment and hospitality industry is the only sector in which workers face signficant exposures to secondhand smoke. This would suggest that even workers have choice in deciding whether exposure to secondhand smoke is worth the compensation they receive. No job or leisure activity is risk-free. The relevant policy question, in my view, is whether, and under what conditions, the government should prevent individuals from making certain trade-offs in their personal and professional lives.