Thursday, April 03, 2008

I’m Not Public Enemy Number One

New York is about to implement yet another cigarette tax. But you don’t have to be a cigarette smoker to feel assaulted, insulted and alarmed by the expansive growth of The Nanny State policies that continue to impinge on personal behavior in the name of The Public Good. Aren’t you at all disturbed by the none-too-subtle dangers of allowing government (local, state, federal, or all of the above) to increasingly legislate what we can do and where we can do it? No? Why not?!

Living in liberty – achieving it and maintaining it – has always been a struggle between the freedom from and the freedom to. My freedom to do something (or to have or to be) should not overly impose on your freedom from the impact of my choice. But the essence of liberty lives in compromise and tolerance. As a smoker, I don’t have a problem with smoking restrictions in [most] indoor public spaces; I understand that people don’t want to be exposed to second-hand smoke. But increasingly, smoking is prohibited outdoors, not to mention in all bars and restaurants.

Especially in cities, is there not something crazy about objecting to a smoker on the street corner while cars, trucks and buses zoom by and chimneys spew? And is it reasonable that there is no indoor place – no bar, no restaurant, no smoking lounge in an office building or transportation terminal anywhere – that a smoker can relax with a cigarette? If smokers have to control/limit ourselves most of the time, can’t non-smokers cut us a little slack some of the time? After all, cigarettes are relentlessly taxed; in New York City, a carton is about to cost $85-$90, after the newest tax increase goes into effect. But smokers have no rights or privileges whatsoever! Do non-smokers remember that the American Colonists fought a revolution over “taxation without representation?” What do you call this? High cigarette taxes discriminate against poor and working class people, who comprise the largest population of smokers, and these taxes have done little or nothing to stop smokers who are intent on smoking (we find ways...).

I understand that people want to live in as healthy an environment as possible, but doing so at the expense of all differing personal choice is an insane and dangerous price to pay. Contemporary standards say that smoking is very bad – indeed, apparently worse than official intervention in the daily lives of ordinary citizens. But prohibitions that are instituted now in the name of good health can very easily become prohibitions instituted in the name of social decency (or whatever) in the future. Just look at the extent to which the Religious Right, including our Born Again loon of a President, have already eroded the separation of church and state!

Lots of folks don’t mind that smoking in workplaces has virtually disappeared. But increasingly, companies are mandating that employees be 100% non-smokers or risk dismissal. Lots of folks think that’s okay, too, because they believe it will “keep health care costs down.” But what happens if companies decide that unmarried people, or women with children, or anyone over the age of 50, are too unproductive or expensive to tolerate? If it serves The Public Good, will that be okay, too?

Anti-Jewish laws in Nazi Germany were created incrementally. At each stage, the public (including many Jews) believed that a particular level of legislation was tolerable. First, no Jews could be employed in certain industries, no Jews were permitted to live in certain neighborhoods. Then, no Jews could own a business or personal property. First, intermarriage was frowned on; not much later, it was illegal. First, Jews had to wear yellow stars so that good Christians wouldn’t mistake them for actual people. Not much later, the Jews and their identification stars were gone – out of sight, out of mind, and into concentration camps.

If you think such fascism in our society is unlikely, think again. Since we Americans are a plum ignorant people with little knowledge of history, we are currently living to repeat it, ad nauseum. Across the country, smokers are being rejected for apartment purchases by condo and co-op boards; neighbors are suing neighbors if a whiff of smoke wafts into an apartment building hallway or over a backyard fence; parents who smoke are threatened with losing custody of their children.

Since the early 1980s, society has been waging war on cigarettes. “Thanks for not smoking” morphed into “No Smoking – I’m Allergic,” which became plain old “No Smoking.” If you’re still unable to view smoking as anything but a health issue, consider that the same kind of prejudice and legislation is now being applied to fat people and society’s view of food. “Good health” has gone from being a personal priority to a social responsibility – and that sets off an alarm in my head. When a society legislates morality, that is a slippery slope. If you don’t want to smoke, then don’t smoke. If you don’t want your children to smoke, then teach them not to and supervise them. If you don’t want to associate with smokers, that’s your prerogative. But when you make me an outlaw for indulging in a legal adult pleasure, I must protest – and I do, most vehemently.

Please note: according to today’s New York Times, “The House Commerce Committee approved a bill Wednesday that would give the Food and Drug Administration sweeping regulatory authority over the tobacco industry, clearing the way for a floor vote on the legislation, which has long been sought by anti-tobacco activists…”


runningburro said...

Hi! I saw your comment on the "fat" well post on the NYT and wanted to stop on over to say, "hell, yes!" to your comment. It made good sense and reminded readers (I hope) that there are real enemies out there.

MizB said...

Thanks, runningburro, I appreciate the vote of confidence!