The Law Of Unintended Consequences Strikes Again

A study has found that smoking bans contribute to an increase in drunk driving as smokers either go to bars where smoking is allowed, or go home earlier than they otherwise would.

The First Law of Public Policy strikes again—every public policy has a set of unintended negative consequences and the magnitude of those consequences are in proportion to the sweep of the policy. The smoking ban is no different—instead of letting bar owners, patrons, and workers decide for themselves based on all the available information, the government decided to make the choice for them.

There’s no question that smoking is incredibly bad for you, and second-hand smoke is dangerous. At the same time, the government makes a large sum of money off the sale of every cigarette. The cigarette companies receive justified criticism for profiting of the sale of a product that kills half of the people who use it—but exactly why is government less culpable when they too are making money off the sale of cigarettes?

Whether or not the benefits of smoking bans outweigh the increase risk and the additional cost is an open question. Even if they do, it’s still worth asking the question of just how much power we should be giving government to regulate our private affairs.

2 thoughts on “The Law Of Unintended Consequences Strikes Again

  1. I don’t think that it is possible to objectively state that “second-hand smoke is dangerous.” The government and other studies have been efused with near hysterical political biais, creating so much smoke that it’s near impossible to know what’s really going on.

    The 1992 EPA study, which produced the assessment of “3,000 deaths per year from second hand smoke,” was rejected by the Federal District Court (see decision at with these statements (among others):

    “EPA publicly committed to a conclusion before research had begun…adjusted established procedure and scientific norms to validate the Agency’s public conclusion… disregarded information and made findings on selective information; did not disseminate significant epidemiologic information; deviated from its Risk Assessment Guidelines; failed to disclose important findings and reasoning…

    “EPA’s conduct of the ETS Risk Assessment frustrated the clear Congressional policy … to provide clear, objective information about indoor air quality…”

    The District Court was overruled on the grounds that EPA’s report had no regulatory weight, which seemed a bit like winning out of pity.

    Far too many government studies suffer from such very fatal flaws, mislead the public and obscure the truth.


  2. Here’s a rare moment of agreement I have with you, except for one point. Secondhand smoke is not dangerous. It’s a “nuisance” that antismoking ideologues invented to accelerate their movement to the next level, convincing public policymakers that one person’s unhealthy smoking habit is ending the lives of those around them.

    Even in the 2006 surgeon general report that shouted as through a megaphone that “THERE IS NO SAFE AMOUNT OF SECONDHAND SMOKE!!!!”, the fine print of the report concedes that the cancer risk from environmental tobacco smoke is an insignificant 0.3%. To put that in perspective, the cancer risk from eating food cooked on grills is 0.9%. So you’re three times more likely to get cancer from the grilled hamburger the restaurant serves you than the “secondhand smoke” that used to exist there.

    Minnesota’s smoking ban has been an unmitigated financial disaster and the halfwits in Iowa’s Legislature have a 50-50 chance of repeating the same epic blunder yet this week. As you suggest though, even if they were beneficial in any tangible way other than mandating fresh air for every antismoking prima donna who chooses to step on someone’s private property and demand it, the nanny state bootheel is approaching Shaquille O’Neill’s size…and shows no indication of being lifted off of the peasantry’s neck anytime soon.

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