Limited Taxation
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Barbara's Column
August 1999 #1

Power-Lusting Anti-Smoking Zealots Soon Coming for You!

I hate cigarettes, I really do. Ask my smoker friends, who have their own little corner of my front porch, with wool blankets available for winter. Ask my son: when he was a teenager, I told him that if I caught him smoking he would not live to see emphysema. But aside from my responsibility for him, it was never my job to tell other people what to do with their health.

My mission is simple: keep the smoke away from my face. Personally, I consider smoke up my nose to be criminal assault, and think I should be able to retaliate with a pen up my assailant's nostril. But the Anti-Smoking Zealots (ASZes) wouldn't support that simple solution: no place for them in it.

This is the explanation for what seemed at first to be an inaccurate news story: it stated that many in the Massachusetts anti-smoking movement are upset by the announcement that the Department of Public Health could use the state sanitary code to impose a statewide restaurant smoking ban.

Why would an ASZ not want a statewide restaurant smoking ban? The answer, I suspect, is another question: why should the state get to hog all the joy of pushing people around? Town by town, city by city, ASZes press for ordinances that force restaurants to forbid smoking on their own private premises, even though customers want to smoke or apparently don't mind if others do. What they want or don't mind is irrelevant; the ASZ knows better and can get the local government on his side.

Most likely, he does not have the personality to get elected to the town zoning board, where he could make people's lives miserable on a case-by-base basis. Maybe he isn't tough enough to join the Hells Angels so he could intimidate by just riding into town. Perhaps he was in his last year of law school before he realized he could have become an accountant for less tuition and had a great job at the IRS. So, he had to settle for being a common busybody.

I'm not talking about those who encouraged sensible policies, like smoke-free airplane flights for flyers who can't escape the smoke by leaving the room. I agree that teachers shouldn't smoke in schools that the government forces kids to attend. Cigarettes should not be allowed in hospitals, or anyplace with captive victims of annoying, possibly dangerous second-hand smoke.

But most of us non-smokers can deal with our dislike of cigarettes without the government's help. We ask our friends not to smoke in our homes and cars, look for jobs in places that have a considerate policy, avoid smoke-filled entertainment spots, and tell our kids that if we catch them with tobacco they are grounded forever.

Employees who work in a smoky environment have leverage in this full employment economy. Unions can get the issue in contracts. Certainly anti-smokers can boycott restaurants that allow smoking, and open their own "clean air," healthy food eateries.

I once attended a meeting in a small, closed room. One of the other meeters lit a cigar. When he put it down for a moment, I picked up the ashtray and left the room with it, promising with a smile that I'd make sure it waited for him outside. No argument, no power struggle -- and no smoke.

But for an ASZ, that solution wouldn't fly. The point is not just to rid his environment of unpleasant vapors, the point is to make people do something that they did not want to do: pay a higher tobacco tax, add a room to a bar, pay a fine. When an ASZ gets a law that forbids smoking in places where he never even goes, he knows that he made the owner bow to his will. He and local government share that glorious knowledge that we all must do as they say or else.

As long as tobacco is a legal substance, the debate is not about health, it's about power. And because power is more addictive than tobacco, when the Anti-Smoking Zealots are through with the smokers they are coming for the rest of us, for whatever reason they can find. You can put that guarantee in your pipe and smoke it.

Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation.  Her syndicated columns appear in the Salem Evening News, the Lowell Sun, the Tinytown Gazette and MediaNews Group newspapers around the state.

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