Thursday, September 24, 2015

The Campaign to Save Me from Myself

I am puzzled by a strange policy decision. Without fail, not just laws, but also private policies established by hotels, businesses, restaurants and so on, decide to treat "e cigarettes" the same as tobacco products when it comes to bans. This one confuses me. After all, the cigarette ban was not justified as a public health measure intended to stop individuals from choosing to smoke, but was sold entirely on the premise that by smoking my "second hand smoke" would unduly harm others. Isn't that why we were chased outdoors, and are banned within x feet of many doors? Isn't that the argument for fining those who smoke in cars with children? And for the failed attempts to ban smoking in "conjoined dwellings"? Or even outdoors in some towns? So, if the risk is second hand smoke, and that justifies the law, then why include e cigarettes? Is "second hand steam" a health issue as well?

Why not just admit it and come clean? The laws about smoking are all about forcing others to stop making a decision the majority finds offensive. As I said before, if the goal was to keep smoke away from others, indoor, enclosed smoking areas expose others to less smoke than making us cluster outside and blow smoke over every passerby. Similarly, there is no logic to laws banning smoking in hotel rooms, as presumably those staying with a smoker can decide whether or not to do so. For that matter, why not allow restaurants and bars to decide whether to allow smoking, and customers can then choose whether or not to patronize them*? The idea of driving smokers outside was not about the health of others, but about inconveniencing smokers to show the majority did not approve and, hopefully, make them conform.

I don't get why the anti-smoking lobby does not admit it. After all, the government already intrudes in many areas to save me from myself. Laws about drugs, about prescription drugs, safety laws, all sorts of regulations are premised on the idea that I am too stupid to judge things for myself and must be told what to do by the omniscient government, so why hide this when it comes to smoking? I don't know whether to take this as a hopeful sign -- that people are finally tired of being treated as inmates in an asylum where the state knows best and controls our every move -- or a depressing one -- that the people pushing the "nanny state" have found a way to overcome whatever backlash may have arisen, and we can look forward to nothing but more and more regulation.

Sadly, I think it is more of the latter than the former.

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* Obviously, this could not be allowed, as such a sensible market solution would undercut endless regulatory efforts. For example, why not allow employers to offer a wage and employees decide whether to take it or not, rather than enforce minimum wage laws? See, such obvious answers would be far too liberating and reduce government scope, so I don't seriously expect to see them embraced.

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