Tags: The | Cancer | the | Anti-smoking | Puritans

The Cancer of the Anti-smoking Puritans

Wednesday, 06 November 2002 12:00 AM

Two decades ago, before it became fashionable to detest tobacco products, anti-smoking zealots used to argue that their interest in banning smoking only extended to prohibiting the practice on plane flights. This was only reasonable, they argued, because aircraft ventilation systems had no way to filter smoke-tainted air, and non-smokers had no recourse if they didn't want to inhale it.

This proposed restriction was presented to the public as the outer limits on curtailing people's freedom to enjoy smoking. But with the stealth that guile brings, the long march to stamp out smoking everywhere was under way. Buoyed by the relentless drumbeat of sympathetic media propaganda and vested interests in the health care industry, the wheels of disapprobation ground inexorably finer by a thorough demonizing of tobacco producers and users.

The overt demonology became political correctness, leading corporate executives, facility managers and assorted government functionaries to curtail smoking in the workplace. Everyone has seen the sorry spectacle of huddled groups of beleaguered smokers, furtively sneaking puffs outside their workplaces in the cold and damp.

Demagogues like California Congressman Henry Waxman and Savonarola-like activist John Banzhaf have called for Draconian tobacco regulation far and wide, encouraging tort lawyers across the country to belly up to the bar and file whatever personal injury or class action lawsuit will allow them to pick the pockets of tobacco companies.

Not to be outdone, state and local politicians in league with anti-smoking groups push ballot measures in numerous states and municipalities that either increase already onerous tobacco taxes or outlaw smoking in various public areas and workplaces.

Following similar measures in California and Delaware, Michael R. Bloomberg, the mayor of New York City, is now pressuring New York's City Council to ban smoking outright in bars and restaurants in all five boroughs. Since 1995, smoking has been prohibited in city office buildings and in restaurants seating more than 35 customers. The new proposed restriction would affect an additional 13,000 establishments.

This heavy-handed coercion is all done under the banner of health care advocacy, which, in the minds of political animals, always seems to trump the rights of individuals to pursue their own pleasures, unless the lawmakers' own pockets are at stake. The recent defeat of Michigan's Proposal 4 ballot initiative, which would have redistributed tobacco settlement monies to private health care organizations, was heartily cheered by state politicos, since they were being used to fund other projects.

This long-running anti-smoking jihad is not unlike the Zeitgeist demonizing the liquor industry that brought about Prohibition in 1920. In the similar attempt to solve all sorts of social problems, proponents argued that by reducing the consumption of alcohol, crime would decrease, health and hygiene would improve and the tax burden of building prisons would be lifted.

As time would show, the Noble Experiment was a miserable failure. In the long run, alcohol consumption actually increased, organized crime and corruption got a foothold, an underground economy was born and the touted health benefits were not realized.

There is no question that heavy long-term smoking represents a health hazard to the smoker, as does habitual alcohol consumption for the heavy drinker. And while some argue that "second-hand smoke" might jeopardize the health of people in close proximity to smokers, over-consumption of alcohol certainly modifies the public and private behavior of drinkers, often to the detriment or peril of those around them.

The question remains: Should government regulate smoking as it tried to do with alcoholic beverage production and consumption? Have smokers no rights? Should a man who risks his investment in a bar or restaurant be put at an economic disadvantage because he is proscribed from allowing smoking in his place of business? Hasn't he the right to establish his own rules and policies to attract the customers he wants? After all, those who are offended by tobacco smoke also have the right not to patronize his restaurant.

The anti-tobacco and anti-alcohol crusades are cut from the same cloth. Today, anti-smoking forces are mercilessly metastasizing to kill off the last redoubts that remain for those who might enjoy a postprandial cigarette, cigar or pipe.

This is not only wrong, it is, as Prohibition showed, against nature. People must be free to choose – even if it means their own poison. The more intense the regulation, the more potent tobacco becomes as people find other sources to pursue their pleasure.

The spreading cancer of the anti-smoking Puritans should be of concern to free men everywhere. As economist Ludwig von Mises cautioned, "Once the principle is admitted that it is the duty of government to protect the individual against his own foolishness, no serious objections can be advanced against further encroachments."

You may reach Mr. Kalellis at

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Two decades ago, before it became fashionable to detest tobacco products, anti-smoking zealots used to argue that their interest in banning smoking only extended to prohibiting the practice on plane flights.This was only reasonable, they argued, because aircraft...
Wednesday, 06 November 2002 12:00 AM
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