A QUESTION for antitobacco militants: Why do you draw the line at private homes?
To protect nonsmokers, especially young ones, you've made it illegal to smoke in more and more places. You have banished smoking from tens of millions of private workplaces; from airplanes and buses; from most government buildings. You have gotten hundreds of cities — Boston is your latest conquest — to ban smoking in restaurants altogether. In California, you've even driven smokers from bars.
But smoking at home is OK.
Curious, no? You militants routinely justify your crusade by claiming to act for "the kids," yet in the one place a kid is likeliest to encounter cigarettes, smoking is wholly unregulated. Why? It can't be because you respect the rights of private property owners. After all, restaurants and bars are private property. And it can't be because the state never interferes in the way parents raise their children — the state interferes in everything from the commercials children see on television to the paint that goes on their walls. So why aren't you clamoring to take away parents' freedom to smoke at home?
Granted, that would just about outlaw all smoking. But isn't that what you want?
One of the nation's foremost antismoking activists, Stanton Glantz, compares cigarette manufacturers to Timothy McVeigh, the mass murderer of Oklahoma City. A New York Times reporter likens tobacco employees to "the guards and doctors in the Nazi death camps." Over a decade ago, the Journal of the American Medical Association was calling for "a declaration of all-out war" against the perpetrators of "the tobaccoism holocaust."
Such murderous rhetoric is typical. On taxpayer-funded billboards in California, a man about to light up asks, "Mind if I smoke?" The woman replies: "Care if I die?" Elizabeth Whelan of the American Council on Science and Health says smoking kills more people than "if every single day two filled-to-capacity jumbo jets crashed, killing all on board." A former director of the Centers for Disease Control has predicted that "the annual global death toll of tobacco will equal the total death toll of the Holocaust in Nazi Germany."
Such hysteria is more than repugnant, it is false. In For Your Own Good, a lucid and superbly researched new book on the anti-tobacco jihad, journalist Jacob Sullum pinpoints the deceit:
"The rhetoric of tobacco's opponents implies a rough equivalence between a 65-year-old smoker who dies of lung cancer and a 40-year-old businessman killed in a plane crash, a 19-year-old soldier shot in the trenches of World War I, or a child murdered by the Nazis at Auschwitz. But there is a big difference between someone who dies suddenly at the hands of another person or in an accident and someone who dies as a result of a long-term, voluntarily assumed risk."
Maybe so, you anti-smoking activists might say, but the harm caused by smoking isn't limited to the smoker. His smoke poisons everyone he comes into contact with. They shouldn't be made to suffer because of his vile habit. Nonsmokers have a right to a smoke-free society.
In fact, the danger of secondhand smoke is more myth than science. Most epidemiological studies have found no statistically significant link between lung cancer and secondhand smoke. Exposure to cigarette fumes may not be good for your health, but the medical fact is that secondhand smoke is not likely to do lasting harm to anyone.
Still — what about those kids growing up in smokers' homes? How can you sworn enemies of tobacco be so intent on criminalizing the smoke in smoky jazz bars, yet do nothing about the millions of children whose parents light up with abandon? Why don't you demand that cigarettes be outlawed in any house with kids? In other words, why don't you demand that cigarettes be outlawed — period?
Maybe the answer is that even zealots like you realize it wouldn't work. Alcohol Prohibition in the 1920s was a hideous failure, drenching the country in corruption, crime, and oceans of impure alcohol. In a nation with 45 million smokers, Tobacco Prohibition would be no less a disaster, and most of you know it.
Or maybe the answer is that you couldn't afford to end smoking entirely. Ban all tobacco, and there'd be no tobacco taxes or (legal) tobacco profits. No profits or taxes, no hundreds of billions of dollars to fund a settlement. No gusher of dollars for new "health care" programs. No bonanza for plaintiffs' lawyers. No lavish budgets for all your anti-tobacco outfits. No goose. No golden eggs.
But I think the real answer is that you don't think you can get away with it — yet. Already some of you are targeting smokers' homes. At least one law review article has claimed that parents who expose their children to tobacco smoke "should be viewed as committing child abuse." A Pennsylvania legislator has proposed a ban on smoking in any vehicle carrying a minor. More intrusion is on its way.
Nicotine may be pleasurable, but it's nothing like the high of forcing others to behave the way you want them to. Power over other people's pleasures is very addicting, isn't it? "The true nature of the crusade for a smoke-free society," Sullum writes, is "an attempt by one group of people to impose their tastes and preferences on another." It's illiberal, it's vindictive, it's intolerant. It's you.
(Jeff Jacoby is a columnist for The Boston Globe).
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