Saturday, May 23, 2009

The Straw That Broke Joe Camel's Back

This article tells the sad tale: “North Carolina last week took a historic step for a state built on tobacco: It made smoking indoors illegal just about everywhere.”

Not nearly enough attention was paid to this ominous piece of legislation. What makes it so ominous is that it isn’t your typical smoking ban. Not only is this baby statewide, it's statewide in America's top tobacco state. From Cherokee to Currituck, North Carolina's government is determined to cut its residents' noses off to spite their faces.

The people of the Tar Heel State (soon to be renamed the Heel, Tar! State) actually dodged a much bigger bullet, as the original bill sought to ban smoking in nearly all North Carolina workplaces. And make no mistake: Full blown tobacco prohibition is the goal here. But don’t take my word for it. State legislator Hugh Holliman called the bill’s passage: “A giant step forward.” Notice he didn’t even bother with the standard lip service about how “regrettable” the action was. There was no mealy-mouthed, “Gee folks, I hate when the government has to do stuff like this, but we really had no choice.” Rather, he declared the bill “a step forward,” meaning it’s a step along a path he intends to continue down.

Governor Bev Perdue was even more explicit: “I have vigorously supported efforts to reduce and eliminate smoking.” I don’t even think the U.S. Supreme Court could mangle the crystal clear meaning of the word eliminate.

Americans have long ceded to nearly every excess of the anti-tobacco mob, so it was only a matter of time before restrictions expanded beyond mere towns and cities and took root across entire states. When you unthinkingly let strangers choose your villains for you, you’re bound to let them pick your heroes too. So now Perdue and Holliman have heroically joined the ranks of fellow elected busybodies like Mike Bloomberg and "concerned citizen" blowhards like Rob Reiner in the anti-smoking burlesque show.

What makes this acquiescence to ever increasing tobacco restriction so puzzling is that alcohol Prohibition is widely acknowledged as being a first rate government blunder. That line of thought is even the norm in public schools, where those 13 dry years are recounted as a mistake to be learned from, not a reminder of the good old days. Yet the barely concealed itch for a total tobacco ban oozing from these measures and their supporters seems to escape even those who would scoff at another booze ban.

To understand this, it helps to consider just how completely Americans have inhaled the tenets of the anti-smoking crusade. WE AMERICANS CARE ABOUT FREE EXPRESSION, except when it comes to smoking ads (the most gratuitous porn has more champions than cigarette ads in magazines). WE AMERICANS DEFEND FREE ENTREPRISE AND CONSUMER CHOICE, except where tobacco is one of the choices. After all, what if people make the wrong choice and start smoking??????? Or worse yet, what if the Marlboro Man starts targeting teens??????

Ever notice that it’s acceptable for every other type of company to make its products more attractive to consumers, but the moment a tobacco company does it, it’s automatically portrayed as an act of conspiracy and deception? Every company wants to make its products as widely accessible as possible to as many people as possible. Ford wants as many people driving Fords as possible. Apple wants as many people using Apple as possible. And yes, Philip Morris wants as many people coming to flavor country as possible.

Let’s look at some real manipulation. Let’s look at the way anti-tobacco groups manipulate the public with spooky terms like "Big Tobacco.” What does that term even mean? Is Tyson Chicken an example of Big Poultry? Do we call Levi’s Big Denim? The reason the anti-tobacco zealots say “Big Tobacco” instead of Philip Morris is because they know the term conjures up images of evildoers secretly meeting in back rooms. And worst of all, those back rooms probably allow smoking.

The claim that this ban helps businesses by saving them the cleaning costs associated with things like ashtrays is foolish, since businesses are not legally required to provide smoking sections. In fact, smokers are about the last group you can still discriminate against. So if John Q. Entrepreneur decides the related costs outweigh the gains derived from allowing smoking, he is free to make the adjustment. Besides, when has government ever shown concern about lowering business operators' expenses?

Since New York passed its notorious 2003 tobacco ban, more than twenty states have banished smoking in bars and restaurants. Funny that these statewide banning trends are occurring right as we hear one state after another celebrating their overturn of bans of another stripe. I guess the only way smokers will get any respect is if they start demanding marriage licenses.

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