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Port: At some point, you have to let people live the lives they want to live

"North Dakota is on the cusp of a significant rollback of the state's smoking ban, which is a victory for individual liberty."

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Cigars
(Helmut Schmidt / The Forum)

MINOT, N.D. — The debate over smoking bans has been over for a while now, and the anti-smoking folks won. There is no public space in North Dakota where one can legally light up, and as a personal matter, that's alright with me.

I don't smoke. I don't like smoking. I don't like being around people who are smoking.

Still, I argued against the smoking bans, because I abhor the idea that private businesses that are open to the public are somehow owned by the public. I don't like smoking, but I like big government manipulations of what otherwise legal activities private citizens get up to on private property even less.

Smoking tobacco has always been legal. Why not let private businesses cater to people who, informed of all the attendant health risks, choose to smoke?

I started this column by saying the smoking debate was over, didn't I? How foolish of me. It abides, most recently in the form of House Bill 1229 , which would allow for the smoking of cigars within a specific type of business that must adhere to certain standards to be licensed.

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A "cigar lounge" as authorized by this legislation, must have a humidor on site. It must have a very specific sort of ventilation system that isolates from any nonsmoking businesses that might be in the same building. It must also get at least 15 percent of its gross annual income from the sale of cigars.

In other words, this must be a business serving people who want to smoke, and it must not impact any neighboring businesses where smoking isn't allowed.

The legislation was introduced by Rep. Dan Ruby, a Republican from Minot who has championed this cause in several legislative sessions now, and his argument for it has been consistent.

Smoking is legal. Some people want to smoke. Why not allow a type of business that caters to those people? And not even all smokers, either. Cigar bars would only be allowed to serve cigar smokers. People smoking pipes or cigarettes would be out of luck.

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The argument against this legislation is that smoking is unhealthy. And, well, yes. It is. Very much so. But the sort of people who sell cigars, who buy cigars, who might want to congregate in a nice lounge to have a drink and enjoy cigars in the company of others already know it's bad for them.

It's a decision they're making for themselves. Why shouldn't they be allowed to? I won't be going to any cigar bars because I don't like cigars, or smoking, or even drinking alcohol all that much (I'm very boring), but that's my choice. And I'm not inclined to force my choices on others.

Ruby's bill has passed both the House and the Senate now, though the latter chamber made some amendments which must be reconciled with the House version of the bill before it can be sent to Gov. Doug Burgum for signature. But, looking at the two versions of the bill , that shouldn't be an obstacle. The Senate version, in at least one way, is actually less restrictive than what the House passed, lowering the requisite revenue share of cigar sales from 20% to 15.

It seems likely that this bill will be sent to Burgum for signature, and I'd be surprised if he didn't sign it. And that will be a small victory for individual liberty, in so far as it will allow citizens to build businesses around the public performance of a habit that is unquestionably unhealthy.

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You might not like it — again, I'm no fan of smoking — but at some point, if we're going to say that we live in a free society, you have to let people live the lives they want to live, even if you disapprove.

Sometimes that means letting a person read a book you don't like, or attend a drag show you find offensive, or light up a cigar with some friends.

Opinion by Rob Port
Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at rport@forumcomm.com. Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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