The Memphis suburb of Germantown, like our own Brentwood, is a predominately white, upper-class area that has always liked its taxes low and its government limited. Apparently, though, at least when it comes to tobacco, Germantonians think the save-us-from-ourselves Nanny State is just swell. They want to prohibit smoking in restaurants and bars. Too bad a 10-year-old state law stands in their way.
With the anti-smoking group Citizens for a Healthy and Responsible Tennessee (CHART) leading the way, Germantown is now pushing legislators to repeal that law. Many state legislators, shrewd political calculators that they are, have figured out that cigarette smoking is about as popular as athlete’s foot these days, and thus it comes as no surprise that there are apparently not one, not two, not three, but four separate repeal bills in the works, sponsored by both Republicans and Democrats (including the always-colorful state Sen. Steve Cohen, the lottery champion who is apparently selective with regard to the state’s role in the promotion of personal vices).
There’s a decent chance, despite pressure from the tobacco and business lobbies, that the repeal will come to pass. CHART is astutely framing the argument as one of “local control” versus “state control” in an effort to win over skeptical conservatives. It’s not a bad tack to take. From a dispassionate, public policy-oriented viewpoint, the legislature has little business passing a broad, prophylactic law prohibiting cities and towns from making their own choices regarding local tobacco regulation.
Of course, whether pervasive smoking bans of the sort Germantown wants are a good idea is a different question altogether. There is, after all, still a lot to be said for keeping the government out of places it may not belong, even if the erstwhile conservatives of Germantown seem to think otherwise.