Transcript: Ga. Smoking Ban Pits Libertarians Against State Lawmakers

Questions for former Director of the Libertarian Party Philip Bradley (search):

1. Describe the new anti-smoking bill

The new anti-smoking bill as recently passed by the Senate in Georgia would ban smoking in not only public places, public meaning operated by the government, but also businesses that are operated by private individuals and organizations for the purpose of serving the public.

2. What would those private places include?

They would include restaurants, any businesses open for members of the public to come and conduct business, with the exception of freestanding bars. That is a stand-alone business that is designated as a bar with certain qualifications for serving drinks.

3. What are the Libertarian Party objections to the anti-smoking bill?

The Libertarian Party of Georgia’s objection to the statewide smoking ban, language of House bill 1138, is that it infringes on the rights of private business owners to make decisions about how they want to use their property. The statewide smoking ban gives the government the authority to decide who is and who is not going to be a customer at many of these businesses and to regulate the activities of those customers that choose to frequent these businesses.

4. Keeping the health concerns of secondhand smoke in mind, what would Libertarians propose as an alternative to a smoking ban?

The Libertarian proposal to most intrusive government of this type is simply to allow public opinion and the free market to regulate situations like this. It's obvious in America today we have a very large movement among the public of people who do not want to go to establishments that have smoking, that have secondhand smoke (search) in the atmosphere. You have a wide variety of options available to these businesses to capture those customers who don't want to be bothered by secondhand smoke. These businesses can install new air filtration systems to completely circulate the air in the building and turn it over so many times per hour to remove most of the problems that you have with secondhand smoke. Businesses can choose, on their own, to ban smokers and just serve customers who don't smoke, or they can choose, on their own, to allow only smoking. It's up to the business owner to make the decision whether he wants to make money or not, and how best to do that in an open and free marketplace.

5. What efforts were made to stop the bill from passing?

The primary efforts that the Libertarian Party of Georgia made were to contact our members, friends, and associates on an e-mail list that we maintain here in Georgia. We encouraged people to contact legislators both in the Senate and in the House including the chairs of the committees that were considering the statewide smoking ban. We urged our members to write letters, send faxes, send e-mails, and make telephone calls. We also put out a press release stating the Libertarian Party of Georgia's position on the statewide smoking ban.

6. What do you say to those that think voting for a third party is throwing away your vote?

What we say in the Libertarian Party to question about the wasted vote is it depends on what it is the person who is making that statement wants. If they want smaller government, if they want less regulation and legislation in their lives, if they want fewer taxes, if they want more money in their family budget, if their looking for a less regulated, freer lifestyle, the one thing they can do that will give them that is to vote for a Libertarian candidate. If you vote for a candidate from one of the other parties, you're telling that candidate, 'I want you to give me more of what you've been giving me.' A vote for a candidate who is a member of one of the two major parties is a request and endorsement of the policies of those parties. The only way we are going to start making changes is to send a message to those parties: 'We are tired of what you've been giving us, and we don't want it anymore.'

Questions for Georgia State Democratic Sen. Kasim Reed (search):

1. Describe the new anti-smoking bill.

The new anti-smoking bill was an effort led by Sen. Don Thomas, the senator from the 54th, and myself to ban smoking in public places and in commercial places throughout Georgia.

2. Can you describe what these public and commercial places are?

It was a very broadband initiative. It was literally wherever citizens are gathered, it included restaurants certainly, it included government buildings certainly, it included shopping malls, so it was a very broad bill initially. After we began to work the bill through the process we provided exemptions for restaurants that generate more than 75 percent of their revenue from the sale of alcoholic beverages. That was an important exemption. We were just trying to provide exemptions for those kinds of businesses and small business owners as well. We also exempted certain small businesses with less than 15 employees. I would have to check the bill to see if that's correct, but I think we exempted some the smaller restaurants as well.

3. Why is it about smoking that made you feel like you had to co-author this bill?

Well, the fact of the matter is that there is no question about the damage that smoking does, and there is no question, at least in all of the data that was shared with me during this process, that secondhand smoke is very damaging to the citizens of Georgia and it's costing the state money in terms of Medicaid dollars. We can have a real debate over how much, but currently Georgia is spending an excess of $200 million on Medicaid-related illnesses that have to do with some form of smoking or another, as evidenced by the tobacco settlement that the state of Georgia got more than three years ago.

There's no question that people are being damaged as a result of the behavior, not just the people who are smoking cigarettes. Secondhand smoke certainly causes some forms of cancer, and if that person does not have private health insurance then the state of Georgia is picking up that bill. So the decision really is whether you're going to pay now or pay later. By having a forward-looking public policy I think 1.) You begin to shift the public’s concern about smoking. 2.) I think you impact behavior in order to reduce smoking. 3.) I think the biggest impact will be on our children and our young people no being exposed to people who are smoking. I think that influences the behavior of young people. That's been borne out of data that was also presented as a part of this presentation.

4. What efforts were made to stop the bill from passing?

Substantial efforts were made because the bill didn't get a floor vote in the House. There were real concerns from tobacco farmers, the small number of tobacco farmers that we still have left in the state. We used to have a major Brown and Williamson operation in Macon, Ga. although that operation is now closed. You also had concerns from small business owners who derive substantial sales from the sale of tobacco products. So, all of those forces, it really wasn't Democrat or Republican this was a bipartisan bill, and candidly there was bipartisan opposition. But this bill moved overwhelmingly through the Senate, and I believe that if it had come to an open vote on the floor of the House then it would have passed.

5. Now that the bill has not passed what efforts will be made to ban smoking?

We may ask the governor to include it in his package for a special session. The governor has stated that he will call a special session so what we will likely do is ask him that this ban be included as part of the legislation to be considered during this special session. During a special session, the governor determines the agenda so he would have to place the smoking ban on the agenda for consideration.

6. Do you feel that a ban on smoking infringes on citizens' freedoms?

I don't think that it infringes on citizen's freedoms because they are able to smoke in the privacy of their own homes and other places as long as they are not enclosed buildings. It doesn't infringe on your freedom if you can walk outside and smoke anywhere you want. The challenge comes when the state is clearly bearing a burden for the behavior. The state is clearly having higher Medicaid costs, we have Medicaid budget of over quarter million dollars, and that number is certainly going up. So we are paying for the behavior, but we are not trying to stop anybody from having a cigarette, we are just trying to stop someone from having the right to smoke a cigarette in an enclosed environment and damage other people's health. There is a clear distinction there, in my judgment.

7. How do you feel about third parties such as the Libertarians?

I feel fine about them, I encourage a vibrant democracy and I like for as many people to be expressing their views as possible. I'm fine with it. I think the debate is healthy. I think it's completely fair if I’m going to sponsor a piece of legislation, that does impact people's conduct, for people to challenge that. I am completely comfortable, I just think we need to do it in an open and honest way, and then make the judgment. The people have spoken. We were successful in the senate, we were not successful in the house, and that’s the result, I'm not crying about it, but we will be back.

Candidly, I believe that there's no question that the overwhelming majority of people in Georgia think that there should be some sort of smoking ban in the state of Georgia. Every single poll that has been taken in the last five years shows that the majority of the people of this state believe there should be some ban. It has not hurt businesses; in fact, businesses and restaurants that have implemented these bans have improved. It's not anti-business; it's pro-business, and pro-taxpayer because it is a fundamental policy shift. But I welcome the Libertarians and the Green Party and anyone else to the debate.