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Rick Nease, MCT

'Freedom to breathe,' at the cost of choice

  • Article by: WADE YARBROUGH
  • October 10, 2012 - 10:03 AM

Counterpoint

I read with interest state Sen. Kathy Sheran's article on Minnesota's Freedom to Breathe Act that she sponsored five years ago ("Take a deep breath. Notice anything?" Oct. 1). It's funny; I had been on this Earth for 56 years when that act was passed, and for all of those 56 years I felt pretty confident I already had the freedom to breathe.

As a nonsmoker, like Sheran, I, too, enjoy going to a fine restaurant and having a great meal in a smoke-free environment. But that is where our similarities end. Unlike Sheran, I do not want the force of government to do my bidding for me.

She refers to "making our bars and restaurants smoke-free." You may refer to our lakes, our libraries, our state parks, but not to our bars and restaurants. As the current saying goes, "you didn't build that." Another person invested money and sweat to build that facility, and to allow use of a legal product, cigarettes, within it.

It appears that a lot of people are shocked that smoking causes ... well, smoke. The intellectually honest remedy to the situation was not to penalize private bar owners but to outlaw tobacco from the state. If tobacco is that bad, put it in the category of marijuana. But it seems that some politicians do not want to give up the millions of dollars that tobacco brings in each year for the state coffers.

Sheran states that 79 percent support smoke-free policies and that 86 percent believe smoke-free bars and restaurants are healthier for customers and employees. I am afraid she uses statistics like a drunk uses a lamppost: more for support than illumination.

Before government got involved to force owners to outlaw smoking, people voted with their feet. Bloomington and Minneapolis put in smoking bans prior to the statewide ban, and customers were leaving in droves and patronizing nearby bars in other cities without a ban. That was one of the reasons given by this newspaper for a statewide ban at that time.

During that partial ban, I know of one restaurant owner in Bloomington who refinanced his home for $300,000 in an attempt to offer other promotions to help his business survive. Six months later, he closed the doors for good. Of course, his debt remains to this day. I am sure the City Council members who self-righteously put in the ban lost no sleep over this entrepreneur's loss.

It was never illegal to open a nonsmoking restaurant in Minnesota. Sheran and her likeminded friends could have pooled their own money together to open the first and only nonsmoking bar/restaurant in Minnesota in 2004. According to her thinking, they would have made a ton of money, or not. We have a lot of smart restaurateurs in this state, and none of them pursued that option.

Customers and employees did not have a right to force an owner to run her business in the way they wanted. They had a choice, and choices are good. They had a choice to patronize a business or not, or to work at a business or not. They had a choice to open their own business and run it how they wished. They had a choice to completely prohibit the product to which they objected.

The worse choice was to selectively reduce private-property rights. Government taking of private property without just compensation is mentioned in our Constitution. Freedom to breathe somehow got left out of that document.

I will take Sheran's advice and enjoy a nice, smoke-free meal in a restaurant with friends. But the toast to be given will be one of pitying the incremental passing of our private-property rights.

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Wade Yarbrough, of Apple Valley, is a business owner.

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