Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Up in Smoke

Question: Name two products widely available in the United States that, if used to manufacturer's specifications, can kill you.
Answer: (1) Guns.
(2) Cigarettes.
That's why I am annoyed by the outbreak of hand wringing that has accompanied the city of Calabasas' decision to ban smoking in public areasincluding sidewalks, parks, outdoor businesses, restaurant patios and condo commons.
Those who wish to smoke in this upscale West San Fernando Valley city must do so in designated smoking areas. And if a nonsmoker asks a smoker to stop, he or she must comply or face a fine.
Great, I'm all for it.
I am no health Nazi. I like my steaks large and medium rare, my wine red and my Scotch neat.
And I smoked cigarettes for more than 20 years. I have no excuse for that other than the fact that I grew up in an era when tobacco use was so commonplace that nonsmokers were the pariahs. I quit many years ago. Whether it was soon enough remains to be seen.
So should Joe Marlboro or Virginia Slim be able to fire up at will?
There are a number of individuals and groups who think they should.
Most of them seem to embrace the philosophy that bans on smoking are a first step in an assault on our personal liberties that won't stop until we are shackled by our own moral excesses.
"The level of control exerted upon the supposedly free citizens of Western Europe and North America is reaching a critical point," says one smokers rights group. " People today submit to a level of control that our grandparents would have found unbearable yet we, the product of their sacrifices to maintain liberty, grumble and grouse but ultimately shrug off the responsibility of taking positive action." Picking up on that theme, another group exhorts its followers to get involved, saying that if they do, "they can be successful in stopping unfair smoking bans and cigarette-tax hikes. Almost 46 million adult Americans choose to smoke, and a large number of them have become active in protecting their rights..."
That this last message is brought to you courtesy of the R.J. Reynolds company should probably come as no surprise.
A Calabasas resident blogs that "Calabasas using its own unique judgement has inacted a law that not only bans smoking but also bans your freedoms, freedoms of choice, the pursuit of happiness ..."
Nonsense. At one time in this country, we had the freedom to own slaves, legally practice segregation, slaughter endangered species and carry concealed weapons.
Does that constitute an eroding of liberties?
Do people have the right to continue to practice what the United States' Centers for Disease Control and Prevention describes as "the single most important preventable risk to human health in developed countries and an important cause of premature death worldwide"?
Do we turn our head when people engage in a habit linked to lung cancer, stroke peripheral vascular disease, birth defects of pregnant smokers' offspring, impotence, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, emphysema and chronic bronchitis?
Do we shrug our shoulders over the health costs of tobacco use to us as a nation?
Does smoking sound like something that ought to be prohibited?
It does to me. Can you think of why a product so inherently dangerous should continue to be legal? I can't.
And if it infringes on the rights of someone whose habits endanger themselves and those around them, so be it.
To paraphrase an old expression, "Cigarettes don't kill people, smokers do."

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