In New York City, it’s illegal to smoke in a bar or restaurant.
I think this law is great. You can go out to a bar, and not have to deal with cigarette smoke irritating your contact lenses, and not go home with all your clothes smelling like they were dipped in an ashtray.
I conclude that restaurant/bar smoking imposed a significant externality upon non-smokers that outweighed any pleasure that smokers got from smoking. The anti-smoking laws have maximized the economic value of society.
Now I know that libertarians will say that it’s not the government’s business to maximize the value of society, which is something I disagree with.
Free marketeers will say that if smoking was so harmful to non-smokers, the bars and restaurants would have banned it without government intervention. And this I disagree with too. The free market assumption is based on markets being efficient, and clearly markets aren’t always efficient. (NASDAQ bubble anyone?)
The long established tradition of smoking in certain types of establishments remained even after society’s attitude towards smoking had changed. With smokers having very strong expectations of smoking, and restaurants and bars reluctant to tell smoking customers to take their business elsewhere, the status quo with its negative economic consequences was only able to be changed by government action.
My support of anti-smoking laws in public establishments should not be taken to assume that I support making the practice entirely illegal. If people want to harm their health in a manner that doesn’t create any externalities, then I’m all in favor of it, and in fact I’m in favor of marijuana and cocaine also being legalized.