If there is one group of people that I don’t want to hear whining, it is the cigarette smoker. Imagine any other habit being half as obnoxious, and yet tolerated. Otherwise clean people smell like they slept in a dumpster (sorry guys, you do). They expel carcinogenic chemicals that you couldn’t even bury in a toxic waste dump without a visit from the feds. Meanwhile, those of us who elect to avoid this pollution are accused of infringing upon smokers’ “freedom” when we demand that they engage in their dirty habit somewhere that it doesn’t affect us.
I am not prudish about the consumption of poison. I think that people should be allowed to consume liquor anywhere they please — in the park, on the street, in a hot air balloon, or even while driving — as long as they are not truly impaired. I wouldn’t care if a guy sat next to me on a public park bench and began shooting heroin into his arm — as long as he took proper precautions to keep from getting blood on me, and he took his needle with him when he left and disposed of it properly. If you want to snort cocaine off a hooker’s ass on the sidewalk, as long as you don’t block the sidewalk, I’m all for it.
What do all those things have in common? Lots of people might find them objectionable, but they really don’t cause any physical discomfort to anyone else. They don’t hurt anyone but the consumer. I think that it is improper for the state to restrict the freedom to do anything that “neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.” But when it does either, then that is a proper place for the state to act. This is in sharp contrast to ciggy smoke, which does, in fact, harm people who have chosen not to partake.
We all have a right to a little roving zone of personal autonomy — that zone should be large when we are on our own private property. Therefore, if I commit an act inside my house, and the effects do not break beyond the walls surrounding me, then the state should have no right to interfere. (The state does not agree. See Gonzales v. Raich (previously Ashcroft v. Raich), 545 U.S. 1 (2005). In that case, the U.S. Supreme Court bizarrely held that if a man grows marijuana in his own living room, and smokes it in his own kitchen, he is somehow interfering with interstate commerce sufficiently that the federal government should have a right to restrict his conduct. But, this piece is not about the law as it is, but as I think it should be.)
Once I step out onto the street, my zone of autonomy ebbs and flows depending on my surroundings. If I am in the middle of the desert, and the nearest person is 1 mile away, then my zone of autonomy ought to be pretty wide. I should be able to scream and shout at the top of my lungs, as my crazy behavior will not graze the ears of another. I can, however, accept that doing so in the middle of a crowded sidewalk would be properly punished as “disturbing the peace.” On a lonely sidewalk, if I want to swing my arms around wildly, that ought to be my right, but as soon as I enter a crowd and my hands start slapping faces, I’ve gone beyond my personal autonomy zone, and entered my fellow citizens’ zones. At that point, I’ve broken the law, and the law is no ignoramus for saying so.So lets talk about cigarette smoke specifically, as nothing is truly analogous. Cigarette smoke contains chemicals that, if you buried them in the ground or discharged them into the air via any other means, you would go to prison. As far as the unpleasant nature of the stuff, most non-smokers would rather tolerate the smell of dog shit. However, if I carried a pail of dog shit with me into a public park, I would likely be shunned if not charged with some appropriate misdemeanor.
Here in San Diego, the lack of cigarette smoke is absolute bliss. You can go into any bar, any nightclub, on to any beach, into any park, and you will not be assaulted by the stench or the poison carried by cigarette smoke. You can sit down on the beach, and you can know with absolute certainty that no asshole will sit right next to you and start belching chemicals and stench into your zone of personal autonomy. New York is seeking to do the same, but the NYT editorial board seems to think that this goes too far — calling it “prohibition.”
Someone at the New York Times needs a new dictionary.
Nothing in the proposed legislation says that people can’t smoke. It simply requires that if they do so, they do so within their zone of personal autonomy, and remain outside of their neighbors’ zones. To define this as “prohibition,” you would have to change the definition of prohibition. If the 18th Amendment said that Americans could not consume alcohol while spitting a portion of it on other people, well then the prohibition analogy would be sustained — and we never would have had the 21st Amendment.
This all said, I am not hostile to the consumption of tobacco, nor to the individual choice to consume it. I think that smokers should have an absolute right to smoke in their homes, so long as they can keep the smoke from penetrating the homes of others. There have been cases where apartment and condo dwellers have gone to legal loggerheads with their neighbors over the stuff, and in those, I side with the neighbor of the smoker. If I can smell your ass or your cigarettes through my wall, you deserve to have your ass kicked.
On the other hand, there is a growing movement to restrict smoking in cars with children inside. Emotionally, I understand the point of the legislation — powerless children should not be subjected to the harm visited upon them by second hand smoke spewed out by an adult in the car. I think this goes too far. Yes, I feel badly for the children. However, 99% of the time, this will be harm visited upon them by their parents. Parents should have a right to raise their children as they see fit — even if that means giving them cancer or emphysema. I recognize that this is a debatable point — that perhaps the children should have a right to health protected by the state. After all, you can’t starve your kids to death, nor can you put tequila in their sippy cups at home. So, why should you be allowed to close them in a hermetically sealed bubble and then fill their little lungs with arsenic, nicotine, and whatever else shit is in ciggy smoke? I say that they’re your kids. Turn them to shit if you want to. If you’re too much of an imbecile to wait to smoke until your kids are out of your car, then perhaps it would be better if your kids die young, before they spawn the next generation of imbeciles.
A recent article in the New York Times, which seems to have hired a new pro-smoking editor, brings us the story of people who are avoiding the high cost of cigarette taxes by growing their own tobacco..
“It’ll make the antismokers apoplectic,” said Ms. Silk. “They’re using the power of taxation to coerce behavior. That’s not what taxation is supposed to be for.”
“We fear that the antismokers are so hysterical that if they start finding that people are doing this, they would craft a law to make it illegal,” Ms. Silk said. “I’m waiting for the black helicopters to start flying over my yard.” (source)
In that fight, I side with the smokers / home tobacco farmers. I’m not a fan of raising the taxes on cigarettes to try and reduce smoking rates. I don’t mind taxing the hell out of them and applying the tax to health care costs in some way, but to influence smokers to give up their habit isn’t a proper use of the power to tax. I’m even more on Ms. Silk’s side when it comes to growing and smoking her own tobacco. As I mentioned above, the feds think it is a proper use of the commerce clause to regulate whether someone grows marijuana in their own home and smokes it there, with the buds never leaving their own private property. Therefore, I’m certain that the government will eventually make life a pain in the ass for home tobacco famers. That, I find intolerable.
The nanny state really rears its ugly head when it comes to the new fashion — banning electronic cigarettes. These are a god-send for smokers and non-smokers alike. As much as I personally despise tobacco smoke, I have had happy dinners sitting right next to friends who were puffing away on their blue-tipped smokeless cigarettes. No carcinogens came my way. No smell came my way. Just the barely perceptible puff of water vapor and the pleasant blue hue from the tip of the device. Despite their inoffensiveness and harmlessness to others, legislative bodies are now trying to add these to the list of naughty sins committed by nicotine addicts. King County, Washington and the New Jersey state assembly have both classified these devices right alongside the real McCoy. This is total, and un-debatable nannyism in its darkest form. (Of course, when a place like Richmond, Kentucky moves to ban them, I suspect tobacco money in the mix).
The solution to the problem is easy: Sit down and draw yourself, top view. You can just make a circle. Then, draw a line around the radius that your conduct will affect. If you’re smoking a cigarette, that line will likely be an oblong oval about 5 feet in one direction, and drifting downwind about 50 feet. You don’t get to own that. That belongs to your fellow citizens. If you’re a smoker, piss off if you want to smear your gaseous crap in my personal autonomy zone.
On the other hand, if you’re a legislator, do the same exercise. Draw yourself. Now show me how the smoker’s conduct affects you or your fellow citizens. If they are smoking in their home or their car, it does not. If they are smoking an electronic cigarette, it affects nobody but themselves. If that is the case, you have no place regulating their conduct.
Now everyone quit their whining. Smokers, you are not an oppressed minority. And government has no business telling anyone what they can and can’t do to their bodies within their personal zone of autonomy.