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What next after smoking ban (01/03/2007)
By John Edstrom

No sooner had the dust settled from the last election, than we began to hear noises about how the new ruling majority would introduce fresh controls and restrictions into our lives in order to improve them for our own good. (It is always wise to remember, when things look bad, that they can get worse.) Locally, on both the state and the county level, there are rumblings that our lives will soon be made better by a government imposed ban on smoking in public places, among which privately owned and run bars and restaurants are construed.

On its crudest level, the ban is supposed to revolve around the issue of whether the smoker's right to smoke trumps, or not, the right of the nonsmoker to breathe clean, that is, smoke-free air. But this totally miscasts the question. No one has the inherent right to smoke, or not to have to smell smoke. Laws can and have been passed to insure, prohibit, or curtail either. There is no constitutional question.

The overriding issue is whether property owners have the right to control their own property, and how far the state might go to restrict that right. Smoke-haters have a choice whether to go into a bar or restaurant or not, and are free to lobby proprietors any way they like to attract their business. It is up, then, to the property owner who is responsible for paying taxes and wages to make the decision which will enable him to continue to do so. There are many available choices ranging from a total ban on the use of tobacco, to limiting smokers to a restricted area with high ceilings and powerful fans, to smoky old barrooms where you can hardly see the other end of the pool table for the blue haze. Go where you like or stay home.

It is not for the nonsmoker to enter someone else's private establishment and insist there be no smoking any more than a vegetarian has the right to march in and ban meat from the menu, though many would like to.

Pressed on this point, the nanny-staters take up their cudgel on behalf of the poor employees who will be poisoned by secondhand smoke (usually, at the same time, mentioning children, a universal if non-related category). They argue that employees have many rights which are guaranteed by law, never mind that taking work in the hospitality industry is a choice in itself, or that many bars and restaurants are run by the proprietor(s) and family.

But how serious, really, is the threat of secondhand smoke? Yes, I know about the surgeons general reports, but I also know that both the one from 1993 and now from 2006 have been debunked very convincingly and credibly as a clutter of junk science obscuring a sinister political agenda. Certainly, many of the claims that have been made based on these reports are hysterical nonsense or, worse, conscious lies. Google "secondhand smoke" on the Internet and see what you think.

The scary issue here is how much control over our lives and property we wish to hand over to government. It is not by coincidence that part of the groundwork for a local ban has been laid in the form of a survey conducted by eager young scholars majoring in public health over at WSU. What is it that a generation of them are being trained to do, and where will they not presume to poke their eager young noses, at taxpayer expense, I might add?

The real issue here, is one of choices and behaviors taking place on private property, which do not affect others in any real way that can be strongly argued. If you can't smoke in a bar, than you soon won't be able to drink there either, nor will you have much control over anything else in your life, least of all your property. (The mayor of New York City just saw fit to ban trans fat from the menu there.) Government's taking control of private property is tantamount to taking it, period. All those eager noses have to be paid, you know. J.E. 


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