TCS Daily

Smoke and Mirrors

By Allan A. Guldberg - April 2, 2004 12:00 AM

Ireland's new smoking policy, introduced at the start of the year, has finally taken effect. The new ban on smoking in public places, even in pubs, is similar to ones introduced in several cities in the United States. As a smoker, I am capable of understanding that cigarette smoke smells, and that non-smokers would often prefer to enjoy a night on town in a smoke free environment. But it seems to me that a blanket ban on smoking in public places is going overboard.

First of all, smoking cigarettes is in and of itself not banned. Nor is there any indication from politicians that such a ban is on its way. Sure, smoking is unhealthy, even more so than certain other substances that have been banned all over the Western World. This however, is known by all smokers who can read. Yet as informed adults, they choose to engage in the activity anyway. An activity, mind you, that is perfectly legal. Which only begs the question, since there is no indications of a ban coming, why the continued harassment of law-abiding citizens who just happen to have a bad habit?

Some argue that "passive smoking" is unhealthy, and that the preponderance of "secondhand smoke" is the reason behind the ban. Perhaps it is, perhaps it isn't. I have heard that the evidence is inconclusive. Anyway, I am no doctor, and am not qualified to make a judgment in this matter. What I do know is that especially in big cities there are health issues that are a lot more pressing than passive smoking.

Which again raises the question, why do I as a smoker, and practitioner of a legal activity, have to suffer the inconveniences of not being able to smoke in bars?

Smoking isn't even really the issue, as far as I'm concerned. Bars are private businesses. The blanket ban on public smoking is such a huge government intrusion on private property that it is amazing there has not been a more pronounced outcry from all liberty-minded people. Smokers as well as non-smokers.

Is it really impossible to reach an understanding? Yes, through political means it is. Politics will always be hijacked by pressure groups, which are interested only pushing in their own issues. Politicians, eager for votes and control, are always there to help them achieve that. No human rights or respect for private property argument is going to stop them. In fact, the head of the Danish cancer research foundation even at one point invoked human rights in her argument FOR a ban on public smoking.

Another issue is the serious limits being placed on freedom of speech when tobacco commercials are banned. In the EU they have even gone so far as to ban commercials on ashtrays. Why are you not allowed to advertise a perfectly legal product sold in every convenience store?

The market of course would have solved the issue quite amicably, perhaps even creating smoking and non-smoking bars. If there was a real demand for non-smoking bars, this might even be a way to distinguish your enterprise and give it a competitive edge. People preferring non-smoking environments would thus be capable of finding such places, without at the same time encroaching on the right of others, to smoke and drink at the same time.

In some instances clashes of these interests have been spontaneously solved, by the minor inconvenience of smokers stepping outside. Yet with a ban of smoking on the street even that possibility is cut off by the public health Taliban.

Some of the money spent on anti-smoking propaganda might even be spent on developing more powerful ventilation systems. So that it would be possible in some places to have a smoke, even without affecting the climate of the room.

Of course, appealing to the politicians or the pressure groups to let the market solve a problem to the satisfaction of everybody always falls on deaf ears. Control and imposition seems much more fun. The blanket ban on public smoking is not an issue related solely to smoking. It is just a symptom of a much wider malaise in our society.

Let us just hope the disease does not spread more than it already has.


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