Saturday, January 16, 2010

Ban; tax; harass

I found this article very revealing of the sort of paternalism that is increasingly at work in our country these days...

This time its smoking that's under attack. Always an easy enough target.

Just like hospitals before them, colleges are following suit to go completely smoke-free. It's not a new trend, but it is becoming more extreme.

The trend is certainly not new. Here is another Time article discussing partial smoking-bans back in 2002. But as the saying goes, 'give them an inch, they'll take a mile'. And so they have, stadium bans beget, 25-foot bans from entrances, begets 40-foot bans from entrances, bus stops and ATMs, begets total campus-wide bans.

In more places across the country we have seen designated smoking areas get smaller and farther away from main congregation areas. But over the past few years, in more places, we've reached the point where, for the most part, smoking just isn't an option most places.

There are fewer designated areas, rooms with separate ventilation isn't even good enough to appease the agendas of the anti-smoking fanatics. Sidewalks, parking lots, or even in your own car on a parking lot with the windows up are now off-limits for smoking on many hospital and college campuses.

Now I didn't think it was such a bad idea to have designated areas for smokers. Not at all. Especially for restaurants. I think people who don't smoke should have some protections to avoid being directly exposed to second-hand smoke. But when some open-air caf├ęs, bars and strip clubs started banning smoking, I knew the rationality on this issue had given way to hysterics.

What bothers me most about all this is that it isn't that some businesses are electing to do this. That's up them; that's how it should be. And then smokers can throw their money at places that are willing to cater to them.

The problem I've had with this is that businesses are being forced by local government to ban any smoking options — removing any and all choice from them and their customers.

An ordinance stipulating that there must be adequate designated areas or even separate ventilation systems seemed a fair demand. Those businesses who do not want or perhaps need to go to such efforts to please their smoking-customers don't have to. Those that do, at least can if they choose to.

These ordinances banning smoking in all or most public places is far too draconian for my tastes. It's rather obvious where it is all leading.


All this comes at a time when the financial burden of smoking is mounting. Non-smokers have already had to deal with paying higher insurance premiums. Fair? Perhaps. And the honor policy is no longer sufficient. They have developed tests to determine whether you've been sneaking some here or there.

Some businesses believe they reserve the right to terminate employees who smoke and refuse to go on a smoking cessation program. This on the grounds that it's risky behavior that makes them a potential medical liability.

And then, never one to miss an opportunity to create a new revenue stream to pay for increasingly socialist government programs, the Democrats used their control of Congress and the White House to impose a national $1 per pack tax on cigarettes.

Outside of the government acting like a nanny-state, what also bothers me about this is the social bullying going on here. Smokers are not merely being encouraged to stop smoking, smokers are often being shamed for not quitting from employers, the medical community, certainly from militant anti-tobacco organizations, and also from their peers. I find this not only mildly fascist, but it may actually be doing more harm than good, according to a recent study.

Non-smokers don't tend to care about this issue. I don't smoke. I gave up social smoking years ago. But I despise paternalism and I tend to lean toward fairness, and certainly toward liberty when it comes to individuals.

Here's the deal. Non-smokers should pay attention to the increasing efforts to “nudge” individuals into conforming to behaviors deemed “morally right” or “healthy”, like quitting smoking. Because what was limited to smoking yesterday is soon to be the foods we eat. Some of us have been saying for years. Now it is a reality and soon, likely, to become a much more invasive one.

The rationales have already been made, and it's gaining momentum.

Whether its wearing seat belts, eating cupcakes, drinking soda, exercising or smoking, these efforts affect us all. They take away personal choice, one step at a time. First with incentives, then disincentives, and then “benevolent” mandates. Those who don't like the sound of that, should start drawing a line in the sand. I wrote about this on my blog back in 2007.

Take this passage to heart:
“Naturally, there has been pushback from students. "Where do we draw the line between a culture of health and individual choice?" asks Jonathan Slemrod, a University of Michigan senior and president of the school's College Libertarians. "If they truly want a culture of health, I expect them to go through all our cafeterias and get rid of all our Taco Bells, all our pizza places." Students might want to enjoy those Burrito Supremes while they can. In today's health-obsessed culture, those may be next.”

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