The governor of Wisconsin has proposed legislation that would ban smoking in any public place in the state. That would include restaurants and bars as well as office buildings, shopping centers, and any place of public commerce. The only place smokers would be free to pursue their death by cancer wish would be their own homes.
While I applaud the spirit behind the proposed legislation, I am a bit concerned about the attack on personal freedom that the ban would create. Certainly, those of us who do not smoke and are offended by the smell and danger of second hand smoke when we are in a smoking environment, deserve to be protected from that danger and offensive odor. But we are perfectly capable of avoiding those places where we are likely to encounter smokers. We don’t necessarily need our wellbeing to be legislated for us. Freedom of choice applies to smokers as well as non-smokers.
A more viable way, and certainly a more democratic way, to cut down on the likelihood of abstainers being subjected to the airborne carcinogens is to tax the hell out of cigarettes. If you want to befoul your lungs and my air, you should have to pay dearly for that privilege. Some might argue that cigarettes are already taxed to the limit, but piling on another sin tax is a lot easier to get through the legislature than a total ban would be.
Forbidding the use of a particular product hasn’t worked well in the past, so there is no reason to think it will work now. Prohibition was a joke that did little to cut down on the consumption of alcohol.
All it did was create a thriving black market that boosted the incomes and influence of gangsters. The incidence of alcoholism may have dipped, but even mostly law abiding citizens were known to frequent the local speakeasy or to carry their own flasks of illicit hootch. It turned out to be much more beneficial to the citizenry as a whole to make the sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages legal, regulated, and taxed. Lots of money that would otherwise be lining the pockets of black marketeers is now in the government’s coffers instead.
I can remember when the sale of margarine was prohibited in this state. Oleomargarine was considered a dire threat to the health and financial wellbeing of the state’s farmers. We are, after all, the Dairy State. Margarine was an affront to our natural wholesomeness.
That, however, didn’t stop the loyal citizens of Wisconsin from making oleo runs across the state line to that heathen state of Illinois to buy carloads of the contraband to distribute among friends and relatives who chose to flaunt the law in favor of their pocketbooks. The state eventually came to its senses and allowed the sale of margarine within its boundaries, thus making law abiding citizens of those previously criminal inhabitants. And wasn’t that extra tax money levied on that poisonous margarine nice, too? And I don’t think that allowing the sale of margarine in this state had much too do with the decline of the family farm. There were too many other factors involved in that decline. Blaming the mere sale of a butter substitute is only one of a host of problems that quickened the demise of those farms.
So prohibiting the use of tobacco products in any public place is probably a doomed enterprise. The tobacco lobby is much too strong and would certainly come out firing its high caliber artillery in a scattershot pattern over the legislature to prevent such a measure from gaining the force of law. So let’s tax the nicotine out of them instead. That way we will have not only the tax burden to help eradicate the deadly nuisance, but with the recession we are experiencing now to help, we can count on smokers to have to make the tough choice of either smoking or eating. Undoubtedly, some will have to think twice about that choice, but enough of them will opt for eating to effectively cut down on the clouds of smoke that hang over us all.
Oh yeah, and there will be fewer cases of lung cancer to help drive up the cost of health care. The cost of health care? That’s another discussion for another time. Don’t get me started.