WI Extinguishes More Than Indoor Smoking On July 5, 2010

The Wisconsin statewide smoking ban, set to go into effect in 2010, passed both houses of the Wisconsin legislature yesterday.  Governor Doyle is sure to sign the bill.  Kyle from ImJustSayin live tweeted from the galleries.

What an unfortunate moment.  While the final legislation contains an exemption for cigar bars and tobacco shops; does not permit regulating outdoor spaces adjoining various establishments; and doesn't take effect until 2010, the end result is still onerous.  A number of proposed amendments that would have carved out additional common senses exceptions - such as an exemption for private clubs - were shot down.

Only 8 members of Wisconsin's 33-person Senate, 7 Republicans and 1 Democrat, had the wisdom to vote against the measure.  Rather than entrusting individual adults with the power to choose whether to enter smoke-filled environments or permitting establishment owners to make decisions at the most local of levels, the government imposes an inflexible, blanket order.

Some may say that our vigorous opposition to the smoking ban here at LIB is overly simplistic.  But it's the majority that passed this measure that is truly oversimplistic.  Smoking is bad, therefore we will ban it.  Well, many things are "bad" or have "dangerous effects" in varying degrees.  If we are to retain any low level sense of general liberty in our lives, however - freedom from arbitrary government restraints - it is these rather petty issues that must be fought.  Unfortunately, this skirmish ended in a rout.

Smoking may not be a fundamental right where government regulation must face strict scrutiny from the courts.  But government's decision to substitute its judgment - even as a duly elected institution - for lower level decision-making in a system with numerous escape valves for individuals who seek to avoid second-hand smoke, a system where all of the participants, today, are well aware of the health risks of smoking, reeks of paternalism.

I don't smoke.  I remember putting notes in the pocket of my grandfather's blue, oil-smeared mechanic's shirt as a very small child - right next to his pack of cigarettes - telling him to stop smoking.  I remember spending part of my eighth birthday visiting him in the hospital, where he died days later of lung cancer.  And still I am saddened at the passage of the ban.  

Senator Jon Erpenbach seems to sum up the worst of this measure: a lack of personal responsibility.  If you want to quit smoking, sir - and I encourage you to do so - then find a way to quit smoking as an individual.  Don't impose a statewide ban in law that falls on the shoulders of all to help some overcome an addiction or habit.

I encourage Secretary of State La Follette to refuse to publish the legislation (I don't know if this type of veto has a name) after it has been signed by Governor Doyle.

This is not a progressive move on the part of the state of Wisconsin.  It's not a liberal move, though supported largely by liberals.  It's a highly illiberal move, one that places another well-intentioned cobblestone in the long paved road to a place we don't want to go.