By Bob Confer
Niagara Gazette — I hate smoking. It’s a disgusting, dirty habit — and a deadly one, too: I lost both of my grandfathers prematurely to it. One suffered congestive heart failure while the other was afflicted with lung cancer. They died a handful of years before Mother Nature likely would have taken their lives without any help.
But, for as much as I despise cigarettes and wonder why people would engage in such a diversion, I understand and value the premise of personal liberty. It’s their own bodies — they can do whatever they want to for their own enjoyment as long as they don’t infringe upon the rights to life, liberty and property due to others. Smoking is no different than say, someone eating too much or too poorly or taking up potentially dangerous hobbies like motorcycling or sky-diving. To each his own.
There are usurpations of this personal liberty in play in 28 states across America, including here in New York, where smokers are unable to freely and publically enjoy their love affair with nicotine. 2013 will mark the 10-year anniversary of the institution of the New York State Clean Indoor Air Act, otherwise known as the smoking ban. For a decade now, smokers have been treated as second-class citizens and cannot engage in the act without having to venture out into the elements.
Smokers and those who want to cater to them should be treated more fairly under state law, because smoking (or the lack thereof) is – and should be - a choice freely made by the individual, be it a property owner, the smoker, or the non-smoker.
Allowing smoking within a place of business, study, or worship should be a choice afforded the property owner. If a businessman wants to open his doors to smoking, let him. If he’d rather lose the business from smokers and maintain a smoke-free facility and the customer base that come with that, let him. Smoking is part of the product he is offering to his clientele (the experience and ambience associated with a smoke-laden or smoke-free bar or restaurant), so let him choose the product he wants to offer.
Likewise, let the consumers make their own decisions regarding a smoking environment. No one ever said that you had to frequent an establishment where smoke filled the air. Prior to the statewide-ban, there were thousands of restaurants where smoking was prohibited. Choose one of them. I always did. I purposely stayed away from smoky places. Some of my friends and family purposely frequented smoky places.
Choices like those are things unique to a free society. But, we aren’t so free under the Clean Indoor Air Act. So, what has the CIAA accomplished at the cost of freedom?
Economically, it hurt. Many bars, restaurants and bingo halls lost their clients because of that and, in turn, lost significant revenues (as did the cities, counties, and state) and many closed their doors for good. This is especially the case in places like Niagara Falls where the Indians allow indoor smoking and their casino complexes have became safe havens for smokers, stealing customers from neighborhood gathering places that actually paid taxes.
From a health standpoint, the CIAA hasn’t helped and it hasn’t hurt. Some will cite the drop in smokers across the Empire State as proof-positive that it worked - from 2003 to 2010 the number of adult New Yorkers who smoked went from 21.6 percent to 15.5 percent. During that same period, New York high schoolers who smoked dropped from 20.2 percent to 12.5 percent. But, it’s not the ban’s doing.
In recent years, numerous health organizations have placed the cause of the decline squarely on the state’s onerous taxes. New York’s $4.35 per pack is the highest in the nation (NYC also tacks on an extra $1.50) and the single greatest obstacle to smoking.
Ten years into it, we know the ban will never be dropped; it will only be expanded, but in more ways than one. The ban in all of its liberty-assailing glory has set a precedent for public health crises – both real and alleged. Banning and suppression of unhealthy endeavors started with cigarettes. Then it went to foods in our school lunchrooms and sodas in New York City cafes. Who knows what the next target will be.
That said, even if you hate smoking as much as I do, I hope you love liberty as much as I do and realize that after the government eliminates one person’s vice, yours is next.
Gasport resident Bob Confer also writes for the New American magazine at TheNewAmerican.com. Follow him on Twitter @bobconfer