Recently the General Assembly passed a bill (SB 1105) that “prohibits smoking in all indoor restaurants, bar and lounge areas, and restrooms in restaurants in the Commonwealth, with certain exceptions where smoking may be permitted. Requires the posting of ‘No Smoking’ signs and provides for a $25 civil penalty for a violation of these provisions” (official summary from the G.A.’s website) as of December 1 of 2009 unless those places of business create portions of their establishments with alternate ventilation systems. This law, as is done in the case of both gun control and abortion, is another incremental step toward outlawing the practice of smoking altogether. Rather than pushing for an outright ban (which would met with tremendous resistance), opponents of smoking have slowly pushed their agenda. For the longest time, we have had a “sin tax” on tobacco products which was much higher than just about any tax on any other good and much greater than the typical sales tax in most states. Over time the tax would increase, thus although the good itself was not illegal, the inflated price would discourage citizens from either continuing their habit or trying the item for the first time. Today I read in the DNR that the FDA and the federal government are looking into the regulation of tobacco. I should note that I have not nor do I ever plan to use any tobacco product and personally I strongly discourage the use of any tobacco products be they smoked, chewed, snuffed, or dipped. I find all of these practices both disgusting and harmful to one’s health and I greatly look forward to the day in which no person uses these products. So then, I must be a big fan of this new law? No…not at all. Business owners, not politicians in Richmond or Washington, should be able to decide for themselves if they wish to allow smoking in their places of business. Now I prefer to frequent businesses that do not allow smoking as I don’t like being around the smoke, but that is my decision as a consumer. If a business chooses to allow smoking, either for personal or financial reasons, that preference should be their option. Like many nonsmokers, I’ll be less likely to come in, but, on the other hand, smokers will likely appreciate the opportunity to light up. Given the massive crusade against smoking, I find it hard to believe that any customer or employee is not aware of the potential risks of either smoking or of second hand smoke. If you enter such an environment then I say caveat emptor. As a parent, if you don’t want your kids to be around second hand smoke, then don’t take your kids to a place that permits smoking. Don’t instead go to an establishment that allows smoking and then complain to the manager when the person beside you lights up. It’s not the manager’s fault…it’s not the smoker’s fault…it’s not the government’s fault…it’s your fault for not being a responsible parent. Your choices at that point are to sit there or leave. I’d advise leaving. Simple enough.
Besides tobacco usage, people engage in all sorts of activities that are potentially dangerous to their health. So does that concern give the government the right to be the health police? These days obesity is a major issue. I believe that the mass consumption of fast food is a major contributor to the health decline of many Americans. If they were to greatly reduce or, even better, eliminate patronage at these establishments, I sincerely believe that the average health of citizens would improve dramatically. So then should I advocate government regulation for the betterment of my fellow citizens? Again, the answer is no. First of all, the ends do not justify the means. Should we look to the government to solve all of society’s problems? Obviously, like tobacco, many citizens freely choose to engage in these behaviors we consider risky. Must their freedoms be curtailed because we know (or supposedly know) better? I’m sure that I myself partake in behaviors that shorten my life expectancy. For example, I know that I should exercise more frequently, but due to various reasons, I do not do so. Should the government (local, state, or federal) mandate exercise requirements for me? Heaven forbid. Such a policy, although expected from a fascist police state, is unreasonable for a supposedly free republic like our own.
What about seat belt laws? Although I think we can all agree about the importance of wearing a seat belt while either driving or riding in a vehicle, is it really the prerogative of the state to decide for us whether or not we should engage in protecting ourselves? Fortunately the government has wisely restrained itself from being our nanny in our own autos, and therefore…oh no…wait a minute…that’s not right. My mistake. For some reason we’ve come to believe it is reasonable for the government to be our co-pilot for the sake of our own safety. Gee, as we surrendered our choices and personal responsibility to the government on this issue, it should come as no surprise that the government seeks to extend its influence further into the public health and safety debate.
Now I think that the public should not turn a blind eye when companies attempt to mislead people concerning the dangers or potential dangers of using or consuming their products, but if we know what the risks are, then each person should be able to decide for him or herself if he or she chooses to use such products or engage in those behaviors. When it comes to smoking in private businesses it is time to get the government out! Nevertheless, I expect that the crusade against tobacco products will intensify in the coming years. Prices will continue to rise and one day you won’t be able to smoke at all in public, and then not even in your own home. Although I ask that you continue to show the courtesy of refraining from smoking in confined areas (especially around me), to all my friends who enjoy a the liberty of a good smoke I say, “smoke ‘em while you got ‘em”.