Sunday, December 04, 2005


My little community of Carmel, Indiana, just passed a no-smoking ordinance, very similar to the one recently passed in the big city of Indianapolis, just next door. This is a good thing, although the ordinance itself is a little on the weenie side. (It still allows smoking in bars and taverns that don't serve patrons under 18 -- a major lapse, IMHO.)

It's about time Indiana got on board the no-smoking bandwagon. I love traveling to California and Minnesota, both of which are big no-smoking states. I hate coming back home to Indiana, which is pretty much a mandatory smoking state. (If you got 'em, smoke 'em -- and if you don't got 'em, go buy some.) I get off the plane, pick up my luggage, and walk outside to the shuttle bus area where a dozen people are lighting up. The folks around here just can't put enough nicotine and tar into their lungs. Look at the statistics, and you find that Indiana is one of the unhealthiest states in the nation -- we smoke, we eat too much, and we exercise too little. Hoosiers are just a bunch of fat, uneducated, smoke-spewing pigs. That's the generalization, at least.

When I visit CA and MN, I can go into any restaurant or bar and not be overcome with smoke fumes. I can spend a nice evening eating and drinking, and not come home with my clothes reeking of stale tobacco. Not so in IN; the dense clouds of smoke in most entertainment establishments keeps me away. I'd like to think I'd go out more if I didn't have to deal with effects of second-hand smoke. (But then again, I'm middle-aged now, and I don't get out as much as I used to for lots of other reasons.)

So banning smoking from most public places pleases me. It doesn't go far enough, though. What the new ordinance does is remove the smoking section from my local Applebees, but doesn't do a thing for the bar down the block. Oh well; baby steps, and all that.

I used to have a bit of trouble reconciling my semi-libertarian leanings with my desire to ban smoking in public places. After all, I'm generally for less government regulation of personal behavior. I don't want the government telling me what I can or cannot do to my own body; I believe that the government (or church or whoever) has no business poking their nose into my bedroom; and I think that most drug laws are arcane and unwarranted. (Yeah, I'm for more drug legalization -- although, thanks, all you crystal meth users, for forcing my friendly pharmacist to display my favorite cold medicines behind the counter. I really appreciate the inconvenience.) So how do I get off arguing for more governmental control over voluntary behavior?

It's simple, really. The best of laws exist to protect us not from ourselves, but from others. What you do to your own body (in private, anyway) is no business of mine. But when what you do infringes on my rights, then regulation is necessary. So smoking in the privacy of your own home, fine. Smoking in public, where you force me to breathe your noxious fumes, not so much. No one is telling anyone that they can't smoke; the no-smoking ordinance simply says you can't smoke in places where it infringes on others' right to breathe.

One can, of course, take this sort of thinking to an illogical extreme. Should we outlaw farting in public, or bad breath? Arguments could be made for both, but now we're getting silly. As far as I know, farts aren't life-threatening. (Well, most farts aren't...) But cigarette smoke is. That's where you draw the line.

What I really can't understand is why anyone my age or younger takes up smoking in the first place. Since the mid-1960s, at least, the dangers of smoking have been well-publicized. Older generations might not have known the dangers, but my generation certainly does -- or should. So why take up what is at best a filthy habit, and at worst a life-threatening one?

I don't know the answer to that. It's easy to think that's its a social thing, with more low-income smokers than high-income ones. But I know more than a few intelligent, educated professionals who smoke, and there's no good reason for it. If we really wanted to get serious about healthcare in this country, we'd actually have a debate about outlawing cigarettes altogether. Less-deadly substances are illegal, after all.

But I'm for less government regulation, not more, and making cigarettes illegal rubs me the wrong way. I don't think people should smoke them, but I'm not about to argue for abolishing them. Prohibition didn't work for alcohol, after all; there's no reason to think it would work for tobacco, either. So let's keep the filthy things legal, but limit their use in public places. We'll all be better for it.

But that's just my opinion; reasonable minds may disagree.

1 comment:

American Lung Association of Minnesota said...

Good post, Crumugeon. Minnesota is not completely smokefree yet. Minneapolis is, as are several other cities and counties, but we need to pass that statewide bill.

Nice to see my home state is finally doing the right thing, too (I'm a former Indy kid --Warren Central HS on the Eastside).

Bob Moffitt
Communications Director
American Lung Association of Minnesota