I don't have the right to impose my beliefs on other people, so it would be wrong to tell everyone, "Since I don't like cigarettes, none of you are allowed to smoke." However, the reason why I think saying this is justified, let alone the fact that smoking is unhealthy, is because I believe that a smoker is imposing his lifestyle on me by forcing me to inhale what he blows out. To me, that is immoral. Did you know that I can smell a person's cigarette from my car? I don't smoke because I wish to remain healthy, but second-hand smoke takes away that choice.
So, is it moral to tell others whether or not they can smoke in public, given the fact that second-hand smoke is an immoral act of imposing an unhealthy lifestyle upon anyone who is within the proximity of a smoker?
For the most part, second-hand smoke can be dealt with through property rights. Property owners could decide what people on their property could do, and you could react accordingly by avoiding those properties where smoking is allowed. For example, if a bar decides it wants to allow smoking, then you can avoid that bar since you don't like to be around it. Recognizing that many people feel the same way you do, other bars will find it to their advantage to not allow smoking, and you can patronize those establishments. A government ban would be improper because no rights are being violated as long as the smokers only smoke in places where all have consented to being around the smoking (as a general matter that is, see below for a case where rights might be violated).
Now what about situations where a person is smoking on property where it is allowed (whether their own property or another's), and the second-hand smoke is drifting into your property and bothering you? You cannot avoid the smoke now without leaving your property. Nuisance laws would govern this situation. The smoker cannot claim that he can do anything he wants to simply because he is on his own property--he can do whatever he wants to only so long as it does not interfere with others' enjoyment of their property. (whether you would win a nuisance suit would depend on the individual case--how strong the second-hand smoke is, whether you can objectively show that it is detrimental to your health, etc.)
In other words, it would not be appropriate for the government to ban smoking outright, because smokers can smoke in a manner that does not violate others' rights (e.g., smoking where property owners allow it and in a manner that is not a nuisance to adjacent property owners). However, there are some cases where it would be legitimate for the government to stop someone from smoking--where the smoking is violating another person's rights (e.g., nuisance).
As far as banning smoking on publicly owned property, I see no problem with this. Remember that in a free society, there would be very little publicly owned property (e.g., government buildings)--roads and parks and the like would be privately owned. The government should be able to set reasonable rules of conduct for publicly owned property that ensure all of its citizens can access the public property without impediment.
answered Feb 20 '12 at 09:58