I have recently been inundated with a new round of antismoking commercials on television, second in volume only to the heyday of "The Truth" videos funded by the mulitstate shakedown, er, settlement. (See "The Truth") In one of the more recent commercials, a young girls is shown reading some lengthy contract about giving up freedom and all the ill effects, only to have it roll into a cigarette. In another, a cigarette is compared to an abusive boyfriend. In short, all the usual anti-smoking hyperbole is out there for the world to see.
While watching these I had two thoughts. First, that the same people who nod knowingly during these commercials, probably even some who wrote them, were probably the same ones who laughed when the same hyperbole was used for anti-drug purposes. I know many liberals who support the modern health Nazi state who once laughed at the girl smashing her kitchen with a frying pan, or Nancy Reagan and Mr T telling us to "just say no". Amazing how the same over the top message is seen as good and justified when it supports their current crusade, but as excessive and preachy when it cuts against their beliefs.
However, the thought that seemed more significant to me was the second one. As I have said many times ("Twisted Priorities", "Socialism on the Installment Plan", "Practicality Versus Dogma", "Results Do Not Matter", "Something to Consider", "Addicts?", "If They Were Serious ", "A Quick Thought", "A Quick Question", "The Life Coach Culture", "The Great 'What If?' - Advertising, Gullibility, Education, Capitalism and Socialism", "She Won Me Over") smoking does entail risks, but so do many activities which some people find enjoyable. Just because I do not find skydiving fun does not mean I want to see it banned as "deadly", so why can't non-smokers do the same with my smoking? Why does our nation accept some recreational risks as valid and others as "senseless" or "stupid". For example, automobiles can perform every function (or almost every) performed by motorcycles, and are statistically safer, so why do we not see motorcycle riding as needlessly dangerous?
But I have delved into that list many times, as the links should show, and sadly a few of my examples (such as dietary items increasing risk) have become crusades for some, so I worry about providing arguments for the safety and health nazis to latch onto. Instead, I have decided to provide a single example which shows with the most clear contrast the difference in how we handle risks, and the foolishness of our laws.
Or, to put it in words I thought to myself as I watched that commercial, "why is smoking a senseless risk, to be discouraged by the state, while sex is a right to be protected at all costs?"
Some may be shocked at this comparison, seeing the two as completely different, but hear me out. Sex, whether with one or multiple partners, inside or outside marriage is not necessary to survive, nor is there any negative consequence to avoiding it. It carries with it health risks, especially if promiscuous, risks which can be wholly eliminated by abstinence. In short, it is a voluntary choice which people indulge in but which can be eliminated safely thus completely removing a health risk. In other words, every argument offered against smoking applies here. Why, there is even an analogy to "second hand smoke" as your sexual promiscuity can put others at risk, as sexually transmitted diseases can often be spread by other means.
Now, I am hardly arguing that sex should be banned, nor even than promiscuity should be eliminated. What I am saying is that while smoking is seen as an evil to be stamped out by taxes and PSAs and laws forcing inconveniences upon smokers and preventing store owners from exercising their own discretion about smoking, sex is treated as an inalienable right, with laws written to protect "reproductive freedom", and others intended to keep confidential any and all information about one's sexual behavior. Why, if smoking were treated the way sex is, you would be banned form asking if anyone smoked and those who gave smokers dirty looks, much less prevented them from smoking anywhere, would be shunned by society.
Now some will argue there is a difference here, that sex is necessary to procreate and continue civilization, or that sex is sanctioned by society or the like. So, fine, for our purposes, let us limit it to promiscuous sex, though in reality any sex would still work. Even if we limit it thus, the point is still made, the fact is, smoking and promiscuous sex are not very different at all, yet are treated in incredibly different ways.
Which brings me to my point. In many such cases, the argument is made that one is a "want" while another is a "need", or that one is universally understood as good while the other is not, or something of the kind. All of which is clearly nonsense.
As I said in "One More Meaningless Word and Its Consequences", "The Most Misleading Word", "Luxury and Necessity", "Protean Terminology" and "Weasel Words and Hollow Words", "want" and "need" are meaningless words without a context. A "need" is only a need if you specify a goal. Such as "you need a five dollar bill to buy a fancy coffee". Without a specific context "want:" and "need" mean nothing. Or, rather, as commonly used in politics, "need" is something of which I approve and "want" is something I do not. And that is clearly the case here. Smoking is met with large scale social disapproval, so it is dubbed a "want" while sexual activity is a "need" because most of our generation lack self control and have been taught sexual promiscuity is acceptable. However, viewed objectively, those are the only real differences.
Which brings me to my point. By what right does a state ban "wants"? If I cannot prove to you something is "necessary" by some measure, what gives the state the right to ban it? In a free society, if no one's rights are harmed, then what justification is there for banning an act simply because some do not see the value in it? Provided someone wants to do it, obviously they consider it of value, so why deny them their wishes if it does not violate the rights of another?
Nor is this entirely a left wing issue. The left may have been most prominent in the health nazi movement and in banning guns, but the right and left both fought the war on drugs, as well as a few social conservative movements which seek pretty far reaching restrictions on behavior. In fact, it is rather amusing to see nominal conservatives arguing for the right to bear arms, yet turn around and argue that drugs should be banned because of the potential to harm oneself or others. Don't they see they are using the same justification which the left uses (with greater applicability) to argue for gun bans? (See "Guns and Drugs") Then again, it does prove my point pretty well. To the right, guns matter and thus are "needs", while they see no purpose to drugs, and so they are "wants" and can be banned. Sadly, the right (and the left as well) fails to see how the same argument can so easily be used against those things they consider of value.
If you doubt my final argument, think of how many who fought against smoking are horrified at the restrictions being placed on foodstuffs. Yet they laid the foundation for laws they now find extreme and unthinkable. If one substance can be banned for our own good, to protect us from ourselves, then why not another? As I have argued many times ("Slippery Slopes", "Inescapable Logic", "Pyrrhic Victories") once a principle i accepted, it runs to its logical conclusion, and so, one ban justifies another, and those who argue for banning something they find worthless are likely to find the same argument later turned against something they treasure. Which is why, though it means accepting behavior with which we may not agree at times, freedom is the only viable choice, as any other path leads eventually to total slavery. (See "Why Freedom Is Essential" , "Another Look At Exploitation", "Hard Cases Make Bad Law", "Harming Society", "In Loco Parentis", "Government by Emotion", "Missionary Zeal and Human Discord", "Humility and Freedom".)