Smokers under attack
The Editor, Sir:
The bandwagon of local smoking bans now steamrolling across the nation has nothing to do with protecting people from the supposed threat of 'second-hand' smoke.
Indeed, the bans are symptoms of a far more grievous threat, a cancer that has been spreading for decades and has now metastasised throughout the body politic, spreading even to the tiniest organs of local government. This cancer is the only real hazard involved - the cancer of unlimited government power.
The issue is not whether second-hand smoke is a real danger or is, in fact, just a phantom menace, as a study published recently in the British Medical Journal indicates. The issue is: If it were harmful, what would be the proper reaction? Should anti-tobacco activists satisfy themselves with educating people about the potential danger and allowing them to make their own decisions, or should they seize the power of government and force people to make the 'right' decision?
Supporters of local tobacco bans have made their choice. Rather than trying to protect people from an unwanted intrusion on their health, the bans are the unwanted intrusion.
Loudly billed as measures that only affect "public places," they have actually targeted private places: restaurants, bars, night-clubs, shops and offices - places whose owners are free to set anti-smoking rules or whose customers are free to go elsewhere if they don't like the smoke. Some local bans even harass smokers in places where their effect on others is negligible, such as outdoor public parks.
The decision to smoke, or to avoid 'second-hand' smoke, is a question to be answered by each individual, based on his own values and his assessment of the risks. This is the same kind of decision free people make regarding every aspect of their lives: how much to spend or invest, whom to befriend or sleep with, whether to go to college or get a job, whether to get married or divorced, and so on.
All of these decisions involve risks; some have demonstrably harmful consequences; most are controversial and invite dis-approval from the neighbours. But the individual must be free to make these decisions. He must be free because his life belongs to him, not to his neighbours, and only his own judgment can guide him through it.
That is why these bans are far more threatening than the prospect of inhaling a few stray whiffs of tobacco, while waiting for a table at your favourite restaurant. The anti-tobacco crusaders point in exaggerated alarm at those wisps of smoke while they unleash the unlimited intrusion of government into our lives. We do not elect officials to control and manipulate our behaviour.
I am, etc.,