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Blowing smoke to obscure the nonsmoking argument

(This one’s for my SaveShreveport readers. Mayor Keith Hightower needs to start worrying about it, because their linking of one of my columns on its front page drove hundreds of referrals to this blog yesterday, setting a new [well, how old can it be, since this is only about 3 months old] record for daily hits. Its daily traffic must be several times what referrals I got from it.)

Earlier this week the Shreveport City Council postponed District E’s Jeff Hogan’s proposed ordinance that would have outlawed smoking in practically every public venue save those licensed for liquor. (By the way, since Gov. Kathleen Blanco has proposed hiking cigarette taxes, does this mean Hogan and the ordinance’s supporters are being anti-Louisianan by trying to snuff out this potential source of revenue for the state? Just asking ….) It may well come back for a vote, and perhaps even in its same form, in a couple of weeks at the next Council session.

According to published reports, arguments against the ban ranged from the amusing to the uninformed. In the former category came District A Councilman Calvin Lester: “What level of government intrusion are we willing to make? At what point do we stop, or say we've gone too far?” Lester said. (Lester, of course, often has had issues with government intrusion, such as telling him where he has to park, and how he can raise money in his campaigns and lobby the state.)

Less comedic and even less knowledgeable were remarks by one Paige Ham:

"Smokers believe we are personally responsible for our own lives. Isn't that our choice?" she said. "Why does the council feel they are responsible for pushing their values upon the citizens of Shreveport? Smokers can be considerate and not smoke around people. It's OK the way it is. Turn on the news: Everything causes cancer."

Ham seems to have a limited view on exactly who suffers as a result of smoking. Thousands die every year from asthma attacks, one prominent trigger of which is cigarette smoke. With nearly 12 million Americans (1 in 25) suffering from an asthma attack yearly, chances are she’s blown smoke into the face of at least one of these people. And if she’s so confident that smokers will be considerate, the next time she sees a ventilator-dependent person (on or off the vent) come into a restaurant, I invite her to stand up and announce to the assembled smokers, “Hey, everybody, we have to put them out because otherwise this person may go into respiratory distress,” and see the reaction she would get.

Of course, the most ignorant part of her statement is the “pushing values” part. I guess she would agree that government shouldn’t “push” its “values” on the “citizens” when it enacts laws against murder, theft, assault, etc.? That's what the law is, a rendition of a set of values that the majority (in a representative democracy) believes to be the moral code by which life should be led, with government there to enforce it.

You don’t have to rely upon the spotty evidence that secondhand smoke causes cancer to justify banning smoking. Anywhere a breathing-compromised person (some in that condition because they smoked) could be expected to go as part of employment and any public institution (and especially any building containing any health-care providers) should be made smoke free (with the exception of those places indicated under state law). Arguing against this condones selfish behavior of those who would spread the costs of their lack of discipline to other, innocent people.

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