When All Else Fails

Why Isn’t There an All-Smoking Airline?

by Wilton Alston, LRC

I am not a smoker. Never have been. Frankly, I admit to thinking it’s a vile habit. Those caveats aside, the treatment of smokers in the U.S. is something of a quandary to me. Here is a group composed of a cross-section of Americana that might be unrivaled in its breadth. Rich people smoke. Poor people smoke. People of color smoke. White people smoke. Men smoke. Women smoke. Young folks smoke. Old fogies smoke. Lawmakers smoke. Hell, even the POTUS has been known to light up a time or two. Truly, everybody is represented on the smoking band wagon. With all that representation, again I ask: Why isn’t there an all-smoking airline? The answer is obvious: because the government says so. The obligatory airline safety briefing contains words to this effect: “Federal regulations prohibit smoking on airplanes.” Why in the hell…?


Estimates have placed the number of smokers in the U.S. at 45 million people. Few would argue that the tobacco lobby is not powerful. Yet, smokers are treated like pariahs pretty much uniformly, with airplanes just being one place of many. I’m not suggesting that smokers should be forcibly mixed with non-smokers on huge tubes of metal rocketing through the sky, or anyplace else. (Remember when planes had a smoking section? What lunacy.) Voluntary mixing, however, should be left to the individual. Given the shear number of people who voluntarily place a burning tube of tobacco into their mouths and suck the smoke into their lungs, one would think that they would not be persecuted by the State. Don’t these people vote? Certainly they do, but apparently it doesn’t matter. (There is a message in that.)

A grown man can’t go into a bar of his own choosing, to partake in a legal habit of his own choosing, surrounded by people who agree with him, either by commission or acceptance. The treatment of smokers in U.S. society exemplifies a level of paternalism that should be troubling to anyone not passed out from getting blazed on that other kind of cigarette. Despite a flawed application of The Harm Principle or the persuasive pseudo-science of the second-hand smoke gambit, few would suggest—I hope anyway—that cigarettes should be generally banned, as is the case for marijuana, cocaine, heroin, meth, etc. Yet, cigarettes are widely banned in both public places and private places. (A bar is a private place!) The thing that troubles me, and it should trouble everyone—whether you smoke or not—is: How did the bureaucrats decide where to draw the line? More importantly, when will the placement of that line infringe on enough personal choices that people to stand up and say, “Okay, that’s just about enough!” My suspicion: It won’t happen.

And there is a message in that too.