Several cities in California have or are considering instituting public smoking bans that are quite restrictive by citing the health concerns of secondhand smoke, i.e. Calabasas, Laguna Beach

How is 'pollution' from one person's second hand smoke, the possible negative health benefits of said pollution, and the freedom of people to breathe 'clean air' to be addressed from a Libertarian perspective.

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    It should be firstly aksed, if 'freedom of people to breathe clean air' is a part of libertarian perspective. Libertarianism concentrate mostly on negative (freedom from) and not positive (freedom to) liberty.
    – user14448
    May 23, 2017 at 11:12
  • Recommend shifting this to "predominate Libertarian" perspective. There are numerous people out there that would espouse different ideals, all claiming to be libertarian. With facts, polling, etc, the leading Libertarian perspective could be surmised. May 23, 2017 at 14:33

2 Answers 2


The Libertarian Party of Missouri published an editorial on this issue. I won't suggest that it represents the global view of all Libertarian platforms, but it is at least illustrative of how Libertarian candidates and parties are thinking about this.


  • A person has the right to choose whether they smoke or not.
  • A person has the right to choose whether people smoke on their property or not. So it is reasonable for restaurant owners (or others) to institute bans which are applicable to their property.
  • The government has the right to institute smoking bans for government buildings.
  • The government should not institute smoking bans for non-governmental buildings (because that infringes on the rights of the property owner).

How about the health or environmental aspects of smoking? The problem arises that smoking could harm nearby people through second-hand smoke. Although I did not find any official or unofficial statements from a Libertarian Party source, an opinion piece in the New York Daily times suggests that since smoking produces negative externalities it is fair for the government to regulate it (to protect the rights of non-smokers who would be harmed by others' choices).

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    The two articles seem to be at odds with one another. The first defines public in the sense of buildings but doesn't address public spaces like sidewalks, parks, beaches, etc. and rails against such bans. The second cogently advocates for the rights of non-smokers. I suppose this is an internal party battle that isn't as yet settled.
    – CramerTV
    May 22, 2017 at 18:04
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    @CramerTV The article defines public as owned by the government not just open to the public. It would be ok for the government to ban smoking on sidewalks, parks and beaches that are owned by the government. Some parks and beaches are owned by private companies, neighborhood associations, etc. and it would be the right of those organizations to allow or ban smoking.
    – JonK
    May 22, 2017 at 18:13
  • @JonK, fair enough. They specifically said buildings, but it was in the context of property so it is a fair interpretation that 'public spaces' owned by the government could be included. It does seem quite contrary to the current leanings within the party though.
    – CramerTV
    May 22, 2017 at 18:36
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    @CramerTV - These aren't analytical discussions, so I would not be surprised (or alarmed) by them not lining up exactly. May 22, 2017 at 19:22
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    It seems Libertarian positions strongly hinge on the concept of ownership and absolute control of owned things. Those not owning... their problem. Nov 17, 2022 at 12:24

I have previously seen a number of libertarian sources (e.g. this blog) convincingly argue that imposing second-hand smoke danger on others constitutes a violation of non-aggression principle and therefore banning smoking is a valid libertarian approach.

It may be a bit murky in regards to people who have a choice to not be near a smoker, e.g. a patron of a private business who can choose to take their business elsewhere - in which case the freedom of smokers and of business owner may outweigh the non-smoker's freedom. But it seems much more clear-cut in regards to people who do NOT have such an easy choice; for example employees of smoking-OK restaurant; or neighbours of smoking-OK building; or people visiting public spaces.

As such, a government action to ban smoking can be argued to be a legitimate libertarian approach, as defense of victims who suffer from someone violating non-aggression principle - including in private businesses for the sake of their employees.

(you can think of it, for simile's sake, in terms of "is the government allowed to ban hitting you with a stick?").

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    P.S. One problem with this topic is that in 99% of smoking related discussions around libertarianism, most discussions of negative externalities center around medical cost of treating smokers and not second-hand smoke; which presents its own philosophical dilemma for libertarians in real world (theoretical solution: don't spend government money on treating smoking-caused disease. Good luck applying that theoretical solution in real world).
    – user4012
    May 22, 2017 at 20:21
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    How would it not be in line with libertarian views to say "if it is a privately owned restaurant, it is everyone's own choice and responsibility to seek patronage or employment there or not"? May 23, 2017 at 8:17
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    @rackandboneman - patronage, yes. employment, iffy - there are significant costs to changing employment in reality (unlike changing where you eat).
    – user4012
    May 23, 2017 at 13:05
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    Many employment opportunities are inherently risky, whether it's fishing, manufacturing, logging, construction, etc. All are arguably more dangerous to the employee than secondhand smoke. And what about jobs that require sitting all day?
    – PGnome
    May 23, 2017 at 14:12
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    @pwcnorthrop - by your argument, being hit when working in a bar is an inherent risk of the job. Yet, we don't just allow bar owners to permit people to assault bar workers. You need to explain the difference before asserting that it is in any way different.
    – user4012
    May 23, 2017 at 14:41

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