Two interesting items on exemptions to smoking bans have come through my Google Reader recently.
First, Jacob Grier points out that cigar bar exemptions seem pretty elitist, especially when they specifically prohibit cigarette smoking in the cigar bar. I can’t think of a decent reason for allowing cigar smoking but not cigarette smoking in the same establishment. If secondhand tobacco smoke is harmful, surely the source doesn’t really matter. Jacob points out that cigar bars and cigar smokers, generally being more upmarket types, will have more resources to lobby government for exemptions. That’s undoubtedly part of the story, but I suspect there’s also a bit of Bootleggers and Baptists going on here. I’d say cigar smoking is generally more socially acceptable than cigarette smoking, and so the self-interest of cigar smokers and cigar bar operators can be combined with a more compelling moral argument than is the case with cigarettes. This should make their lobbying efforts more successful, which is exactly what we see.
Second, Matt Schonert points to the possible smoking ban in Illinois Michigan, which will likely exempt casinos. The argument from the casinos is that they’ll lose business to Native American casinos in the state which will continue to allow smoking. The exemption, as Matt points out, is a clear example of rent-seeking. My guess is that the casinos have succeeded where restaurants and bars have failed mainly because the casino industry has higher cooperative efficacy, i.e. it is more able to overcome the interfirm collective action problem of lobbying for government favouritism. Compare the casino industry in any given town to the bar industry. There will likely be fewer casinos than bars, and possibly a history of cooperation among casinos in order to share information about cheats, etc. This will allow them to more effectively detect and punish those casinos which freeride on the lobbying efforts of others, encouraging more lobbying effort from all casinos (total lobbying effort being a public good within the industry).
All of the effort casinos and cigar bars exert to avoid smoking bans is, of course, pure loss from a social point of view. If legislators really want to implement a smoking ban with exemptions for those businesses likely to be hit the hardest, a much better way would be to sell exemptions. This way, none of this wasteful rent-seeking or bigoted favouritism would happen.