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Smoke Easies

Opinion Editorial
March 26, 2006

By Aaron Ross Powell

The Colorado Legislature just did all us non-smokers a favor: they’ve ended centuries of oppression by the tobacco loving population and made it once again safe for us to practice our natural right to hang out comfortably in every neighborhood pub. It’s right there in the Declaration of Independence: “…and the pursuit of happiness.” I mean, how can I be happy when I’m kept out of the best sports bars by repugnant secondhand smoke?

The legislation bans smoking in all public places including the aforementioned bars. And right here we find the first spot of trouble. Why is a bar owned not by the state, but by an individual, considered a public place? My house isn’t a public place. If you come over to visit and break out a pack of smokes, I’ll ask you to kindly put them away or leave. I can’t stand the smell. And that’s okay. It’s my home and I can deny entrance to or use of it to anyone I please. Having it any other way would be a disaster for privacy and personal liberty. Plus, I don’t much feel like cleaning up after the homeless people who would no doubt crash on my couch just because they could.

So what’s different about a bar? Not much, actually. In fact, if I were to throw a big party at my place, not check invitations at the door, and sell booze to the people who showed up, it’d be difficult to differentiate between my apartment and a boisterous tavern on New Year’s Eve. At this party, I hand out cigars and cigarettes to guests and they smoke up like a couple dozen Bogarts. But then this one guy shows up. He walks in, uninvited like everyone else, and takes offense at the smoke. He doesn’t like it. It makes him uncomfortable. He’s coughing dramatically, retching and heaving whenever he sees anyone take notice. His performance ends when he gets up on a chair, shouts for attention, and goes on to say how we’re all evil for subjecting him to cancerous chemicals. We’ve got to stop, to put out every last stogie, or he’s going to call his State Representative and have something done.

Most of us would tell him to get lost. It’s our party and if he doesn’t like it, he can go somewhere else. There are lots of places that don’t allow smoking. In the state of Colorado, however, he’s got wide, bipartisan support. It’s for our health, you see. Smokers get cancer and, before they die, they cost the state a lot of money. That’s true enough, but there are a lot of other behaviors that kill people or cause them to hit the taxpayer with huge hospital bills. Driving cars, for instance. Anyway, if it’s the case that smoking should be outlawed because it’s bad for you, maybe the state should take away your rare steak, as well. And what about those high cholesterol snacks? They aren’t doing anything beneficial, that’s for sure. The way Congress gets around this trap of appearing publicly like the nannies they are in private is to invoke that most sneaky of boogiemen, secondhand smoke.

It’s everywhere. Or, rather, it could be; slipping in when you least expect it. I mean, you just went out to a bar, right? You didn’t light up. And now, because of some schmuck on the other side of the room chain smoking Marlboros, you’ve come down with emphysema. Is that fair? So the state has to protect us — and not just those citizens who accidentally walked into the smoking section of a restaurant, but the ones who, through forces beyond their control, are forced to work there. Secondhand smoke must be stopped.

But is that true? Here’s the thing. There’s actually little, if any, evidence that secondhand smoke, even in relatively large amounts, is a health risk. Surprised? I was, too. It turns out that most all of the fear about secondhand smoke comes from a study released by the EPA in 1992. They claimed that non-smokers were dying at a rate of three thousand a year from the stuff. Scary.

At least it was until the Congressional Research Service did some digging and released an evaluation of the EPA study in 1995. What they found is that the EPA did not do its own research, but rather compiled studies by others. And those source studies didn’t even find a real health risk. The CRS concluded that “from a group of 30 studies . . . six found a statistically significant (but small) effect, 24 found no statistically significant effect and six of the 24 found a passive smoking effect opposite to the expected relationship.”

So secondhand smoke isn’t killing people. In fact, it’s not doing much of anything. But Colorado has banned anyway because that’s the way we do things in America.

Aaron Ross Powell is an intern at the Independence Institute