If you aren’t familiar with the term, the “nanny state” is rampant, insidious government interference with what ought to be personal choices made by consenting adults. The current nanny state trend sweeping the nation is to legislate smoking bans in restaurants, bars, clubs and pretty much every other public establishment with walls and doors. For years the American Lung Association has been touting the damage caused by “secondhand” smoke, so these bans may seem initially like just and helpful laws. Unfortunately, there are a few major glitches in the logic behind lawmakers’ push to ban lighting up in public. According to ALA statistics, second-hand smoke is nearly as deadly as direct inhalation and for that reason, legislators across the country have begun passing laws to ban smoking in every indoor public facility. And why am I so opposed to this? It is widely held that the ALA is an unbiased organization and that any dissenters must be dirty, rotten scoundrels getting paid under the table by big tobacco companies. (Although I attempt neither to support nor disprove those theories here, there is no such thing as an “unbiased” organization.) Believe it or not, there is substantial evidence to contradict the ALA’s statements regarding the effects of secondhand smoke. To explain my opposition, however, I must assume for a moment that the ALA is both honest and correct in their findings.
Tobacco smoking is currently legal in the United States, and it is not for the government to regulate within private establishments what is otherwise lawful behavior. Driving drunk is a crime because the effects of excessive consumption on one’s faculties are definitively provable, yet unlike alcohol intoxication, the effect of secondhand smoke is neither definitive nor easily provable. It’s for the greater good, you say? Our culture has become obsessed with the notion that every seemingly good idea ought to be codified law, and since non-smokers generally detest the fumes, the smoking ban has been wildly popular. But what if the government begins regulating something you value, like how many cups of coffee you may drink each day or which doctors care for your children? These are also personal choices that no politician has authority to usurp, yet without concrete science required to justify such intervention, the floodgate is flung wide. Our economy is based on a free market which is regulated by supply and demand, and the government oversteps its bounds by dictating what private businesses allow or prohibit. Prior to the rash of smoking bans, many facilities had already answered the demands of a majority of customers and opted to make their businesses smoke-free. When enough people are interested in patronizing such a business, entrepreneurs will quickly tap that market. Conversely, other businesses may find better success by allowing smoking, and yes – your favorite restaurant might be one of those. Keep in mind that a business has no obligation to make unprofitable decisions to cater to minority needs, just as a petite person has no right to demand that a Big & Tall store carry small sizes. Owners are free to decide what goes on in their establishments, and you are free to spend your money wherever you choose: it’s a beautiful thing.
Some refuse to question the ALA’s reports on secondhand smoke, and I suspect those same people will support government intervention based on what it deems a legitimate health concern. Frankly, the argument cannot be satisfactorily resolved since both sides are skeptical of the other’s agenda, but even if the ALA objectively studies the effects of tobacco smoke, there is nothing objective about the government’s motives for enacting smoking bans. Don’t believe me? Consider this: beating your child with a baseball bat is a crime because it is truly harmful, and thus such beatings are illegal everywhere – not just in public. If the politicians truly believe that secondhand cigarette smoke is as dangerous as the ALA says, why is smoking not outlawed altogether? The government imposes these regulations based on claims that secondhand smoke is (like baseball bat beatings) harmful and potentially deadly, yet it will not go so far as to criminalize it. In other words, you are free to beat your child to death in the privacy of your home, but just not at McDonald’s. The government’s actions totally belie its stated reasoning for the legislation, and I hope you’ll join me in screaming, “WHAT THE HECK??” As Little John said of Robin Hood, “he’s either a fool…or a liar;” in this case, I’ll go with the latter.
These things are agreed: tobacco smoking is a health hazard to the smoker and can certainly be a nuisance to others. It follows that two distinct options are set before lawmakers: 1) to decide that only direct tobacco smoke poses verifiable health risks and to “butt” out of private enterprise, OR 2) to conclude that even secondhand smoke is deadly and to immediately set about criminalizing the production, sale and use of cigarettes, pipes and cigars. Anything in between – i.e., the current “smoking bans” – is an outright abuse of power or just downright nonsensical; in this case, it’s a coin toss and “freedom” loses either way.