Thursday, July 31, 2008

German Court Overturns Smoking Ban.

I'm not much of a smoker. I enjoy the occasional cigar and I used to smoke a pipe once in a while until my dog discovered how fun it was to chew on. Mostly though, I'd call myself a non-smoker (though I'm sure my insurance company would disagree) and in most social settings I'd prefer things to be totally smoke free. Like a lot of folks I'd rather enjoy a meal without the guy one table over blowing smoke in my face. Having said that though, I absolutely hate anti-smoking regulations.

Let's not mince words: anti-smoking laws are an attack on freedom, not just of smokers but of everyone. The idea that the government can tell you where you can and can't use legal products ought to concern everybody.

The case for the regulation is essentially that your life is not your own, but rather as a servant of the state you have an affirmative obligation to maintain yourself in as healthy a manner as possible at all times thus reducing the burden you cause to society. Lots of nasty things flow naturally out of this line of thought, ranging from banning trans-fats to euthanizing the aged and the infirm. I find all of it appalling. The right of people being free to choose their own destiny is vital not only to the cause of liberty but also simple happiness.

What's even more shameful is that, if left to it's own devices, the marketplace will resolve most of these problems without resort to the heavy hand of the state. If smoking in restaurants or bars is truly as unpopular as anti-smoking activists claim, business owners will ban it themselves out of economic self interest. I'm old enough to remember ash trays on the tables at McDonald's, but they quickly disappeared when articles about the effects of second hand smoke appeared. No government action required. What seems to really upset anti-smoking activists is that having heard all the augments, some people persist in making life choices of which they don't approve. To that I have to say "well, tough...frankly it's none of your business".

One of the odd paradoxes of our age is that someone can declare their support for gay marriage on the grounds that adults ought to be free to do what they like, without interference from the government and then turn around and insist the patrons of Al's Bar lack the capacity to calculate the hazards of unfiltered Camels. You might insist that these are apples and oranges. In a sense they are. The argument against the public smoking is at least in part based upon the damage it may cause others-most often the the employees who for some reason in these scenarios are assumed to be indentured servants who cannot seek employment elsewhere. But it is worth remembering that many anti-gay marriage folks assert that they are harmed too. I don't know if that's true in any objective sense but surely their existential angst is no less real than an anti-smoker who never goes into a bar but is deeply troubled that it allows smoking.

In a free society people need to be able to make choices...even ones you disagree with. That's what freedom is. Is smoking bad for you? Of course, so are cheeseburgers, scotch and unprotected sex. They are also some of the great pleasures of life. I fear that in the name of the greater good we all too often loose sight of something as ephemeral as human happiness...and that is a tragedy.

The painful truth is that no matter how we live our lives, we are all going to die. Contrary to what the anti-smoking activists claim, there is no such thing as a "preventable death". Sooner or later the reaper comes for us all. Should we try to live safer, healthier lives? Of course, and many things may extend and improve the quality of life. But which of those measures we might or might not take ought to be a personal decision. In the end it's how we live our lives that matters.


Anonymous said...

Why does a smokers right to smoke supercede my right not to breathe their smoke? Or have my clothes smell like smoke? Or my hair? If I am smokey when I come home, I have to take a shower before I get in bed(Jenelle is allergic) You could say I shouldn't go to smokey places, but I have seen people light up at sporting events, concerts in the park, restuarants, icecream shops(Chlidren' Ice Cream, Mandrake?) So, I shouldn't go to these places?

Plenty of "legal" things are not appropriate for certian situations, especially when they harm or cause injury to others or others property.

Even ignoring the health claims, I do not see why smokers have more rights than I do.


Mike Stajduhar said...

Perhaps I expressed myself poorly. I'm not suggesting that smokers have or ought to have more rights than you. Nor am I suggesting that there aren't all sorts of places where smoking shouldn't be banned.

What I'm trying to suggest is that the decision about whether smoking out to be allowed in a business, particularly one whose clientele is exclusively adult (bars, strip joints, tobacco shops) ought to be left to the owner of that business.

Lincoln Nebraska, my former home enacted a very broad work place smoking ban just before I moved to California. The ban is absolute. You can't smoke in a tobacco shop. If you have a small business (including a home business) with four employees-all of whom smoke...too bad no smoking. If you want to make a movie in Lincoln and Robert Downey Jr. has to smoke as part of his character...well I guess you're gonna have to use special effects. Ron White gave a concert where he smoked on stage (it's part of his act) and was promptly issued citations by the Lincoln police department. When I left town they were still arguing over whether or not prisoners at the state pen could smoke because, after all guards work there. I'm not sure how that came out.

I guess my point is that while its wrong to be intolerant of people who are sensitive to smoke its also wrong to use the power of the state to try and take away those last few outposts where someone can enjoy a drag or two.