A Line In The Sand
NOTE: The opinions and commentary expressed in this essay are those of the author and are an exercise of free speech. They do not necessarily represent the views of Free State Project Inc., its Directors, its Officers, or its Participants.
A Line In The Sand
by Ted Sares
Recently, someone told me that smoking cigars was a "disgusting" habit. I replied that I was quite aware of that but it should be my decision to engage it, not hers......that is, as long as I did not impose it upon her. Being an occasional cigar smoker, I go to certain places to enjoy my H. Uphmans with fellow cigar smokers and without fear of reprisal or finger pointing. Some places will not allow me to do this, and I don't go there if I feel the need to torch up. I am always careful not to bother others with this activity. It's called freedom of choice even if my choice has possible harmful consequences to myself. But once again, there are some who are trying to tell me what's best for me.
To wit, local smoking bans now rolling across the nation may have less to do with protecting people from the supposed threat of "second-hand" smoke than they do with spreading the insidious disease of unlimited government power. This particularly malady has now metastasized and spread to local governments throughout the country. These bans grease the skids for even more intrusive regulation and establish the precedent that the rights of an individual can be violated any time a board of selectmen or city council decides that the "public good" demands it. That it has spread to states like California and Massachusetts, is no great surprise, but when it rears its ugly head in the "Live Free Or Die" state of New Hampshire, it is truly alarming.
Anti-tobacco activists initially claimed these bans would impact only public places (God forbid if you are caught smoking in Conway's Schuler Park), but predictably they have zeroed in on restaurants, bars, emporiums, nightclubs and other places where the owners heretofore have been free to set anti-smoking rules or where customers have been free to go elsewhere if they didn't like the smoke. Again, this is called freedom of choice.
The decision to smoke, or to avoid "second-hand" smoke (and the evidence concerning the health effects of second-hand smoke is not nearly as conclusive as it is concerning the health effects of actual smoking), is a question to be answered by each individual person based on his or her own risk assessment. Heck, just about everyone knows there are health risks involved with smoking, but everyone should have the freedom to bear responsibility for the consequences of assuming those risks. That's what free people living in a free nation do. They make these kinds of decisions regarding all aspects of their lives and most of these decisions involve risks. Some have harmful and negative consequences. Some are not popular. Some invite disapproval from others. But the individual must be free to make these decisions. He or she must be free, because their life belongs to them, not to others---- and certainly not to posturing and approval-seeking politicians and bureaucrats who react in Pavlovian manner to the crusade de jour. So why then when it comes to smoking is this individual freedom under such tenacious attack?
The anti-smoking crusade seems to be part of a greater overall attack from both sides of the political spectrum. Those on the right traditionally have been inclined to override the individual's judgment on matters such sex and violence in entertainment, alternative lifestyles, divorce, and the family. The left, on the other hand, purports to be opposed to this trend, albeit nominally, denouncing attempts to "legislate morality" and family values. While the left crusades for the toleration of alternative lifestyles, it also seeks to override the individual's judgment on material matters imposing restrictions on business, attempting to introduce socialist style windfall profit taxes, regulating advertising and campaign financing, and now legislating behavior that is deemed heathy (The Hazards of a Smoke-Free Environment, May 23, 2003, Robert Tracinski). Neither seems a safe haven for those who believe in freedom of the individual and in freedom of choice.
Most importantly, though, anti-smoking activists should satisfy themselves with thoroughly educating people about the health risks and allow them to make their own decisions. They should not commander the power of government and force people to make the "right" decision, nor should politicians superimpose their judgment on free people, most particularly when businesses seem to be doing this on a voluntary basis in NH. Our state motto represents empty words if we are not free to make these choices for ourselves--even mistaken choices that may turn out to be harmful. What next? Seat belts? Helmets for motorcyclists? No guns? No meat because of the potential of Mad Cow disease? Since sunlight can cause skin cancer, why shouldn't our Board of Selectmen regulate sunbathing at Conway Lake? If our Government can justify this, what can it not justify? Where does it end?
The State legislators, in concessions to a certain few, voted in favor of banning smoking 189-156. The Senate, however, maintained the sanctity of our motto and rejected this proposal. But activists are armed with righteousness and "good" intentions so when do they really step up the pace? Individual freedom, choice, personal responsibility, property rights, mean nothing to them. When do we tell them that the underlying issue remains that no anti-individual crusade and no crusade to rid our air of of tobacco smoke can override a much more important human requirement; namely, the need for the protection of individual rights.
When do we draw a line in the sand and tell them this is New Hampshire and enough is enough?
"The conservatives see man as a body freely roaming the earth, building sand piles or factories--with an electronic computer inside his skull, controlled from Washington. The liberals see man as a soul free-wheeling to the farthest reaches of the universe--but wearing chains from nose to toes when he crosses the street to buy a loaf of bread"-- Ayn Rand, Philosopher and Novelist
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