Paul Jacob

The "smoking debate" exhausts me. Anti-smoking activists may oppose smoking on health grounds, but their attempts to stamp out smoking are making our political society sicker. How? I could repeat the "unintended effects" mantra, but maybe we should just call it "second-hand smoke." Smother freedom and democracy coughs up a lung.

On matters of health (and so much else), personal responsibility works best. This entails no small amount of freedom, including the right of individuals to choose their vices as well as their virtues. So the political question becomes not "Is this or that good for me, or you?" but "Where do my rights end and your rights begin?"

Smoking makes this fairly simple issue a little foggy because the exhaust coming out of the mouth and nose of a smoker isn't mere carbon dioxide. It's bothersome, and more poisonous.

The key to resolving this? Property. I may let someone smoke on my property, but you have the right to put up No Smoking signs on yours. It's really not a question of "may people smoke?" but "where may people smoke?"

Trickier on "public property," I grant you, but it does come down to property rights all the same: who owns the property.

Unfortunately, the anti-smoking crusade also crusades against property. Smoking is apparently so bad that the foundation of civilization—the distinction between "mine" and "thine"—must be eroded to prevent people from lighting up.

In city after city, state after state, country after country, the anti-smoking crusade seems to be winning. Anti-smoking laws go into effect, and they usually trump property rights. And liberty. Both the ends hailed and the means chosen blow out the candle of freedom in every locality under attack. The latest? Washington state.

Hookah Rites
Alan McWain, proprietor of the Spar Cafe and Tobacco Merchant in Olympia, Washington, is giving up, selling out. His business is under attack. And not by the politicians in Olympia, Washington's state capital, but by citizens.

Last November, voters made it illegal to smoke in public buildings anywhere in the state. And by "public buildings" they don't mean "government owned"—they mean any building open to the public. Voters overwhelmingly voted for Initiative 901, which went into effect in early December. The law requires all businesses to place No Smoking signs on their entrances, and severely limits locations set aside for employee smoking. Employees who smoke outside, for instance, may not do so within 25 feet of a door, an open window, or a vent.


Paul Jacob

Paul Jacob is President of Citizens in Charge Foundation and Citizens in Charge. His daily Common Sense commentary appears on the Web and via e-mail.