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North Carolina’s smoking ban, one year later

December 22, 2010 Leave a comment

WRAL has a story remarking that it’s been a year since the ban on smoking in bars, restaurants, and “lodging facilities”, claiming that, by a mysteriously-hyphenated measure, “Air-quality has improved by 89 percent in those locations since smoking was banned, according to studies by the state Division of Public Health.” I would imagine that there’s probably 100% less tobacco smoke, but that doesn’t really tell us anything scientifically meaningful.

Anyway, what gets me is from the bottom of the piece:

Paul M. Stone, president and chief executive of the North Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association, said his membership is pleased with the law.

“The consensus is that this ban has had an overall positive effect on restaurants and hotels in North Carolina,” Stone said in a statement. “It also has been very well received from the public.”

I ask this question in earnest: if it was so good for business, why did it take an act of legislature to implement it? If businesses are pleased with being forced to do something, why didn’t they do it by themselves?

The obvious (to me) answer is imperfect knowledge: they underestimated the benefits and overestimated the costs of implementing this policy. It’s hard to see how that’s true, though: you ban smoking in your restaurant, and you gain business from people who don’t want smoking, and lose business from those who do.

But maybe restaurants were afraid they’d lose all their business to smoking restaurants. On the one hand, good! The market would be working. On the other hand, why not organize via the North Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association, and form an industry group? If everyone agrees to ban smoking, no one loses business to other restaurants.

But who is this North Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association? They have a website, and looking at their benefits of membership page, they seem to fall in to two categories: group bargaining discounts, and lobbying. (emphasis mine)

Legislative Benefits: NCRLA has three lobbyists on staff that will work towards the betterment of the industry and protect your interests when lawmakers attempt to pass harmful legislation.

Each year, NCRLA saves the industry countless thousands of dollars in unfair taxes and fees, and unfair mandates by using its resources and power to stop legislation in its tracks. NCRLA also has a political action committee which works to elect officials who understand the needs of the industry.

So, basically, the largest restaurant lobbying group in the state was asked to comment on restaurant legislation that was successfully lobbied for and passed, and they commented positively. Of course they did.

So I genuinely wonder what about the businesses who aren’t a part of this lobbying organization, many of whom continued to allow smoking until they were fined after being reported. Are they happy with it? Is their voice being heard?

And the whole rest of the article aside: let’s take it as a lemma that the ban was a good thing for restaurants. The government coercively showed people where their best interests lie. The people have no been enlightened and know that banning smoking is the best thing for business.

So we can repeal the law, right?

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