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Sioux Falls Encourages No-Smoking Apartments; Belfrage Sees Attack on Liberty

If I owned apartments, I would ban smoking in them. I don't allow smoking in my own home; why would I allow it in any of my other properties? Smoking increases my cleaning costs, increases the risk that some yahoo will burn down my rental, and decreases the appeal of my property to at least 77% of my potential market.

The Sioux Falls Health Department agrees. They are joining the American Lung Association and the Sioux Empire Tobacco-Free Coalition in encouraging Sioux Falls apartment owners to ban smoking on their properties. The groups held a workshop for landlords last week focusing on why smoke-free policies are good business:

Smoke-free properties mean reduced cleaning costs and a market advantage for those who advertise their properties as smoke-free, said Pat McKone of the American Lung Association of the Upper Midwest.

“I could tell you health benefits all morning long, and that’s not really going to be your niche,” she told property owners. “I want to talk to you about money and market advantage. Your bottom line is keeping your apartments occupied, keeping damage to a minimum and making profits.”

McKone said trends in the apartment industry suggest that smoking in apartments is “on the out. Renters really are looking for smoke-free apartments” [Beth Wischmeyer, "Push for Smoke-Free Apartments," that Sioux Falls paper, 2013.07.01].

Ah, yes, the way to a capitalist's heart and lungs is through his profit margin.

The city's effort to promote capitalism appalls KELO's Greg Belfrage. He calls this smoke-free rental effort an "assault on smoking"... as if it is somehow offensive to attack a dirty habit with little redeeming social value. Belfrage doesn't really have an argument; he just lards on the usual conservative tropes to fill time:

  1. False analogy: "Smoking, you see, is responsible for many building fires. Therefore, we should prohibit smoking. Using that logic, we should also ban Christmas tree lights."
  2. Slippery slope: "What's next? Is the city going to advise landlords not to rent to the obese? Should owners ban soda from their buildings in order to encourage healthier living? Perhaps fast food shouldn't be allowed on the premises?"
  3. Hasty generalization: "There's simply no end to government sticking its intrusive nose into our daily lives."
  4. Jumping to conclusion: "Why does government care whether I die from tobacco use or old age? Answer: They don't. In this case, city officials simply want to make themselves feel better. This is one more government solution in search of a problem." [quotes from Greg Belfrage, "Sioux Falls' Assault on Smoking," KELO-AM: The Daily Does, 2013.07.01]

Let's take those one by one:

  1. Actually, the city doesn't say they're going after smoking just because it can cause fires. They say smoking is responsible for more than half (92 out of 170) of structure fires to which Sioux Falls Fire Rescue responded last year. Nationally, smoking is the leading cause of civilian home fire deaths. Home fires started by Christmas trees are relatively rare: 230 out of 370,000 home structure fires a year, or 0.06%. Christmas decoration-related fires kill an average of four people a year and injure 21, while falls from Christmas decorating send 5,800 people a year to the ER. No one is going to look at those numbers and conduct a public education campaign on the dangers of Christmas lights in apartments of the same magnitude as the effort to discourage smoking in apartments.
  2. The slippery slope is silly. But apartment owners, as business people, put all sorts of restrictions on renters' liberty. No smoking, no pets, no parties... is Belfrage arguing that property owners should not be free to impose restrictions on what people do on their property?
  3. There is no intrusion here. Government is not forcing landlords to adopt a policy. The City of Sioux Falls is pointing out the business benefits of a no-smoking policy. South Dakota loves it when government helps business... don't we?
  4. Belfrage baselessly dismisses the city health department's effort as do-nothing, feel-good liberalism. But again, they're talking dollars:

McKone said the cost for property owners to “turn around” a rental unit for another renter once one has moved out is $560, on average.

When you consider the extra cleaning, carpet replacement, and multiple layers of paint required to get an apartment formerly occupied by a heavy smoker ready for a new renter, that cost jumps to more than $3,500, she said [Wischmeyer, 2013.07.01].

Conservatives like Belfrage puzzle me. They cudgel our brains imposing their moral code on other's lives when it comes to prayer, sex, and marriage. But when governments promote healthy behaviors with demonstrable, practical benefits, Belfrage-style conservatives trumpet the merits of choosing to do your body (and perhaps others) harm. Why would anyone want to make cigarettes and Big Gulps their symbols of liberty?


  1. Chuck 2013.07.02

    Thanks. Well said.

  2. Casey Meehan 2013.07.02

    Being a libertarian I dont see this guys issue even. This is completely different from the ban on smoking in bars, which I was against and I dont even smoke. The government isn't forcing it upon the owners to outlaw smoking. The landlord has the choice.

    Move along and complain about real rights that are being taken away from the government Mr. Belfrage.

  3. Brother Beaker 2013.07.02

    I had to read through several times to make sure that I was reading things right. While I am not sure why the city is sponsoring a "How to be a Landlord" class (it seems more like a Chamber of Commerce niche), if individual landlords choose to set restrictions, how is that not just old-fashioned capitalism. In my younger years, I remember renting from landlords who set occupancy limits, prohibited pets and one who even included an option to evict us if we racked up more than one noise complaint in a calendar year.

  4. Rick 2013.07.02

    Why are the paid chronic crybabies like Belgrage and Limbaugh always the victim? They're the ones lashing out on their radio shows. They're the only ones connecting dots between an unrelated event or issue and their own "rights" to be piggish or bullying, not unlike their allies on the blogs. It's hard to pick a topic-of-the-day when the desired result is to stir acrimony and selective self-righteousness ... because in the real world their view is distorted to get attention from other haters.

    Sorry to vent my frustration here, but I just don't get these guys (and Dr. Laura and Ann Coulter). Why is there a market for this crap? This is the USA, not a nation of self-absorbed crybabies.

  5. WayneB 2013.07.02

    I don't see how this is the purview of the City... I agree with Brother Beaker that this feels more like a Chamber of Commerce issue.

    "He calls this smoke-free rental effort an "assault on smoking"... as if it is somehow offensive to attack a dirty habit with little redeeming social value."

    This piqued my curiosity a little, Cory. Who gets to decide what is of "redeeming social value" ? You and I may not put much stock in smoking, but to turn the tables a bit, the no-smoking push sometimes has the feel of "Whites Only" signs in the Jim-Crow South.

    If a landlord doesn't see much redeeming social value in homosexuals or unwed mothers, is it okay to deny tenancy? What if there's economic data which supports the increased financial costs of keeping tenants of those varieties? (Mind you, purely speculating here - I have no reason to think they would.)

  6. Vincent Gormley 2013.07.02

    I have lived in the same apartment for 10 1/2 years. Hardwood floors.... no rugs to replace. Tenant either cleans prior to moving or pays to have it cleaned.

    The smokers downstairs are supposed to go outside to smoke. Does anyone really believe that they do that in the winter when it is snowing and in the single digits?

    Smoking is not a right. Rights and privileges are separate issues. Breathing is a right. Smoke does not simply dissipate. My windows can be closed and I can tell that someone is smoking outside. When they enter the building and exhale that is second hand smoke.

    By the way I quit smoking over 35 years ago. There was no patch. I did not chew gum. I did it by sheer will power.

    Two of our Sioux Falls council members are opposed to the city's health initiative. One wanted to be mayor. Why do those opposed to government even run for office? Kermit Staggers? Deb Peters?

  7. Nick Nemec 2013.07.02

    Wow WayneB, just wow. The "Whites Only" signs of the Jim Crow South are akin to "No Smoking" signs of today?

    You really don't get it do you.

  8. WayneB 2013.07.02

    I'm not saying they're a direct equivalent, Nick... but there are definitely tones of intolerance towards smokers which I have heard used in other instances. And not purely on health terms.

    Are there health repercussions to smoking? Absolutely. Should people be able to choose to live in places free of cigarette smoke? Sure.

    But when you have Sioux Falls talking about banning smoking in all parks, college campuses banning smoking on any campus grounds, etc. you're talking a whole new level of targeting. It's basically saying "your kind isn't welcome here."

    Let me be clear. I don't smoke. I'm allergic to cigarette smoke. I stayed out of the bars in college because of it.

    Still, I don't feel the need to tell people they can't live in my town because they smoke. I don't feel the need to tell businesses they can't cater to smokers - I'll just patronize the ones that cater to me, the non-smoker who doesn't want second hand smoke.

    It really bothers me when folks from either aisle show their contempt for those unlike themselves, and are blind to the hurt they cause to others. Perhaps it's more galling to me that those who preach tolerance can be so intolerant of segments of society because they disagree with how they live, what they think, or what they do.

    I "get" what it's like to be shunned and marginalized, and bullied, even though I'm white. Do I draw hyperbolic equivalents? Sure, but are they meant to be taken literally? No. I'll never be the in the same shoes as the "separate but equal" black man. But even if you don't perceive how we treat smokers as equivalent, perhaps it'd be helpful to pause and ask if there's any validity to the comparison.

    If we treat smokers, or fat people, or unwed mothers, or the LGBT community as the "Other" does that make us any better than our forefathers?

  9. PNR 2013.07.02

    I've no problem with owners of property regulating how their property is used. If a landlord wishes to ban smoking, have at it. If a bar owner doesn't want to allow smoking, that's fine, too. And if various NGOs or other businesses (i.e., insurance firms) want to point out that landlords can lower their insurance and other costs, thus increasing their profit margins by doing so, well, that's fine, too. Have at it.

    It's when the state comes in a demands a property owner not allow smoking that I have a problem.

    I long ago stopped listening to Mr. Belfrage. I find him horribly inconsistent, frequently emotional rather than thoughtful, and entirely derivative, right down to pirating the catch phrases and nicknames of other talk show hosts.

  10. Chris S. 2013.07.02

    Q: "Why would anyone want to make cigarettes and Big Gulps their symbols of liberty?"

    A: Because it's a cultural signifier, and they think it Pisses Off Liberals—the latter being the most important thing for them. Ironically, most of us really don't care. Double-fisting Marlboros and Big Gulps? As long as you leave me out of it, I really couldn't care less.

  11. Donald Pay 2013.07.02

    What I'd rather do is make the smokers stay inside with their windows shut, so they can asphyxiate themselves and not others. If you live upstairs from smokers and they go outside, they never get far enough away. Their smoke rises and gets drawn inside the upstairs unit. Or, they smoke inside with the windows open, the smoke escapes out their window and is drawn in upstairs.

    What my business now does is require smokers to walk about 100 feet to the far end of the parking lot so the smoke doesn't get inside. I'd ban smoking within 50 feet of a residence. Go smoke in the middle of the street.

  12. Nick Nemec 2013.07.02

    The difference between the Jim Crow signs and a no smoking sign is you can't change your race no matter what, it is immutable. But anyone can put their cigarette out and be not smoking. Smoking is an action and can be changed.

    It is offensive to, in anyway, compare the two.

  13. Joan 2013.07.02

    I have lived in the same apt. complex in Sioux Falls since 1997 and there is no smoking in the halls, but if the people that live above me are on their decks and I have the patio door open, I get the smoke. There is an older man that lives across the hall from me and for some strange reason he thinks he needs to have his door almost wide open(I think he must have a bad case of noseitis), anyway he is a smoker and whenever I open my door to receive a package or whatever, if the man is smoking I can smell it in my apartment for awhile, after I shut my door. One day when he had his door propped open, he had a clothesline strung all the way across his living room with his bed sheets hanging on it.

  14. Douglas Wiken 2013.07.02

    If smoking is closely associated with fires, that suggests that those living in an apartment should be free of that fire hazard. Why should non-smokers have a higher risk because some idiot wants to smoke?

    Smoking is altogether too much like pissing on a rug in a home. Smokers are environmental dogs and a threat to public safety. Why should society pay for the health damage that smoking does?

    Do children deserve to die in fires because some adult insists on smoking indoors?

  15. WayneB 2013.07.03

    I don't disagree with you, Nick. And I don't disagree that the comparison doesn't fit all that well, but my hope is it makes us think about how we view and treat others.

    I find your logic a little alarming, however, that since someone can choose to do or not do something, it makes it okay to marginalize, deride, and hold contempt for that person or group of people.

    So it's okay pass all sorts of onerous anti-abortion legislation because the woman could've just chosen to not have sex? Seems to me you're giving the folks out in Pierre all the logic they need to go as far as they want with the topic.

    Now, I totally grant smoking has proven deleterious health effects both to smokers and to those who get the smoke second hand. It just seems wrong-headed to say it's okay to railroad one group of people, but it's not to do the same to others who are posing a threat to public health and the general welfare of the nation (alcoholics and the obese, for instance), or those we find offensive.

    I would much rather we spend our efforts getting folks broken of their addictions than saying we're gonna punish you for having one.

  16. Nick Nemec 2013.07.03

    It never fails that someone tries to somehow make an analogy to abortion.

    A no smoking sign prohibits an action, and in no way singles out any person.

  17. Les 2013.07.03

    I put whatever sign I want in my property. Don't like it don't rent it. I choose not to allow smokers in my properties. Take no offense and I won't pee on your leg.

  18. Nick Nemec 2013.07.03

    Which makes me think, I don't see anyone standing up for the rights of those people who want to pee on the middle of the bar room floor.

  19. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.07.03

    Wayne, I'm not punishing anyone with an addiction when they come to my house and want to light up. I'm just telling them they can't stink up my house with their addiction. Anti-abortion crusaders are very much about punishing women, even when the women aren't guilty of anything.

  20. WayneB 2013.07.04

    And I'm not about to let anyone light up in my house either.

    But this is more than just saying you can't light up in my house. This is the city on a mission to make it impossible to smoke anywhere in the city except maybe in your car or your own home if you can afford the mortgage.

    Sioux Falls has been on a mission to eliminate any place to smoke. At that point, it starts to look like persecution to me... or not far from it.

    This I find especially funny since we rely so much on cig tax revenue...

  21. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.07.04

    Is it hyperbole to apply the word "persecution" here?

    I would welcome the bind smokers could put us in by kicking the habit and forcing the state to find other sources of revenue.

  22. WayneB 2013.07.05

    I don't know, Cory. Maybe it is. But Sioux Falls sure has an agenda. It boggles my mind the city is offering advice to landlords using my tax money. It boggles my mind that Sioux Falls seems to think there's not enough open air in the parks to allow smokers and non smokers to coexist. It bothers me that our state has determined there's no space on any university campus for smokers.

    And a lot of posters here seem to have nothing but disdain for people who either 1) made a mistake and got addicted to smoking or 2) chose a lifestyle with which they don't agree.

    I dislike how we use such casual language about the addiction of smoking. "Kicking the habit" etc. I find it amazing how easy it is to dismiss scientific evidence of how powerful that addiction can be, yet we're so ready to accept the (well documented) scientific evidence of how harmful cigarette smoke is.

  23. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.07.05

    So what if Sioux Falls and South Dakota say, "We're not punishing smokers. We're not expressing disdain for erring addicts or alternative lifestyles. We're acting to protect non-addicts from the harmful effects of this particular behavior"? And are there ways to erect barriers to entry to a harmful, addictive behavior without making life more difficult for folks already addicted?

  24. WayneB 2013.07.05

    Do you really buy it when Roger Hunt says he's passing legislation to protect pregnant mothers from coercion?

    We can say whatever we want, but the actions and the attitudes behind them are pretty clear.

    And yeah, the best way to erect a barrier to entry of a harmful, addictive behavior is through good, quality education.

  25. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.07.06

    I cringe at the analogy of smoking to abortion.

  26. Les 2013.07.06

    ""I cringe at the analogy of smoking to abortion.""
    Can you handle Capital Punishment/Abortion analogy Cory? Don't mean to hijack your thread, but you're kind of there. Most my conserve friends can't and my lib buddies either.....I'm wondering if I really have any true friends... ;-)
    I thought it was reminiscent of the good old days coming through Buffalo Wy recently, stopping at Pistol Petes for breakfast and walking through the smoking to the nonsmoking room. Other than I though the non smoking should have been the only room non smokers had to enter, I still don't mind the smell of tobacco burning.

  27. Nick Nemec 2013.07.06

    I hate the smell of tobacco burning. I hate the way it makes my clothing stink. I hate the way it makes my hair stink. I hate the way it burns my eyes. I hate the scratchy feel it gives my throat.

  28. Les 2013.07.06

    I think we safely agree Nick has a problem with tobacco? Why do you tolerate it Nick?

  29. Nick Nemec 2013.07.06

    I don't tolerate it. Not in my house and I don't go anyplace where they allow its use. In my book the South Dakota initiative making most businesses smoke free was the best law passed in this state in years. Sadly it took the people to pass it because the vast majority of the legislature and the governor were bought off and afraid to cross the tobacco lobby.

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