Anti-Smoking Ethics—And A Subversive (But Ethical!) Suggestion

"Sorry, sir, but sort-of-looking-like-you're smoking's not allowed in here, and besides, a phony study will be finding it deadly any day now."

“Sorry, sir, but sort-of-looking-like-you’re smoking’s not allowed in here, and besides, a phony study will be finding it deadly any day now.”

Little noted in the news winds was the fact that a major study reported in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute found “no link between the disease and secondhand smoke.” Oh!  Well, never mind then. The supposed deadly effects of second hand smoke gave hoards of health-policing citizens leave to not only be obnoxious and confrontational–“You have no right to pollute my lungs!”—but also to ban a legal consumer product in public places as well as to stigmatize anyone using the products as selfish sociopaths perpetrating slow-motion serial murder.

The second-hand smoke theory always seemed too convenient to me. Many years ago, I permanently soured my relationship with the head of a large Washington association, a non-smoker (as am I, except that I don’t presume to tell others what legal products to entertain themselves with), by opposing his ban on smoking in meetings and offices (and, eventually, his employees’ own homes) because he thought it was dangerous.  He trumped me by producing a couple of fishy studies that, it appears, were in fact as fishy as I suspected at the time. I would like to see a call for accountability on this: how did data now shown to be completely without factual basis manage to surface, become accepted in the regulatory establishment, and be used to bully smokers for decades?

And if you think this reminds me of the over-hyped scientific “consensus” on global warming and climate change, you are exactly right. Uncritical science and scaremongering go together like a horse and carriage, and the second-hand smoke fiasco ought to give full-throated supporters of economy-crippling and questionably effective  measures to curb whatever the hell is happening in the impossibly complex world environment  a reason for pause and reflection. It won’t, of course, because they want the most extreme data to be true, just as anti-smoking zealots desperately needed a way around the assumption of the risk defense, and thus wanting it, will not give adequate due diligence to that possibility that it might not be exactly what its proponents claim. To them the ends justify the means; it really is as simple as that. I bet that there was a lot of chuckling about that Journal of the National Cancer Institute study among anti-smoking zealots, but I’ll tell you this: the next scold in my theater’s audience who harangues me about allowing actors to smoke in a drama set in the 1940’s is getting a copy of that study thrust into her hands, if not her mouth.

But that’s not all. This revelation did nothing to stop the hyperactive nanny-statists of New York City from including e-cigarettes in their public smoking ban. Never mind that these devices, which do not emit smoke, greatly aid smokers (like my wife) who are trying to quit. The anti-smoking brigade doesn’t like them because—I’m not kidding—they LOOK too much like cigarettes, and this offends them. The New York Times quotes Speaker Christine Quinn explaining that allowing the devices in places where cigarettes are now banned also could “renormalize” smoking and undermine the public perception that the habit is now acceptable only outdoors or in private. “We don’t want a step backward with that,” she said. Ah. People not smoking something in order to quit smoking might normalize smoking because some people also not smoking may think they are smoking.

It may be that the public officials in the U.S. are finally becoming too stupid to live.

Also too prone to abuse power. “Although the long-term effects of electronic cigarette devices require further study, the FDA has found that some devices contain toxins and carcinogens and has expressed concerns about their safety,” the legislation reads. So now mere concerns about safety is enough to ban conduct and consumer products. Does any one want to venture a slide down that slippery slope?  Supporters of the bill also said that they were “concerned” about second-hand vapor and that the nicotine vials, which are often sweetened, can addict children.

Well, then, ban it all, I say! This new “concern” standard is so much more useful and flexible than those old fashioned “actual harm,” standards that had to be backed by flawed research, like the second-hand smoke studies. Imagine what the crypto-fascists of the left can do with “concerns” once we’re paying for everybody else’s healthcare! Following the lead of Bloomberg’s personal liberty-defying regime, they’ll be able to ban activities that look like unhealthy activities (and maybe low-calorie food that looks caloric? Wouldn’t want to “renormalize” unhealthy eating, now, would we?) and also anything that might be found to be unhealthy in the future (and then found later not to be unhealthy after all.)

This is how bureaucrats, little by little, encroach upon personal choices and eventually control our lives. Well. If non-smokers have any integrity, they should oppose this disrespectful excess of government authority and abuse of legislation in the interests of freedom and future generations’ right to enjoy life, and I know just how to do it. Banning e-cigarettes crosses the line of appropriate use of government power as clearly as anything I have seen in a long time; this came from the same kinds of diseased minds who punish  children in school for biting their pop-tarts into the shape of guns, but it is unusually vulnerable to attack and destruction.

The method I recommend is “the Dress Code” effect, which I wrote about in October. In my freshman year, a previously unchallenged Freshman Dining Hall dress code was destroyed in matter of months by persistent students exploiting its vagaries to make it seem ridiculous. Required to wear a jacket and tie, students showed up for meals in jackets, ties, and no shirts, or no pants, or wearing flippers instead of shoes. When the code was revised to be more general, using terms like “appropriate dress,” my Hawaiian classmates dressed for a luau, and  threatened to sue on discrimination grounds.

All New Yorkers who have any shred of respect for the necessary limits of a government’s ability to dictate to us on a whim should go to restaurants with non-functioning e-cigarettes, or unlit real cigarettes; candy  cigarettes, rolled up little slabs of paper that look like cigarettes, carrots, bubble gum cigars and anything else that can be fake-puffed sufficiently to spark alarmed looks and confrontations. with waiters Or just mime smoking: that should be enough.

I think a mass demonstration of indignation and support for the innocent users of those maybe-harmful-but-who knows-and-they-could-be-mistaken-for-the-real-thing-and-anyway-who-cares-we-have-the-power-let’s-just-make-them-live-like-we-think-they-should e-cigarettes can kill this offensive law, and send a important message worth sending.

It’s a message that’s becoming more important every day.


Facts: Seattle Times, Huffington Post

Graphic: NYT

24 thoughts on “Anti-Smoking Ethics—And A Subversive (But Ethical!) Suggestion

    • It’s a strange evolution of Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s famous “Defining Deviancy Down”. Now, the nanny state types are constantly defining deviancy UP. Berkeley CA is about to (of maybe already have) ban cigarette smoking in all apartment buildings in the city. They hope to eventually expand the law’s reach to single-family homes. Marijuana, however, is excepted from the ban. For medical use, of course.

  1. The article I perused on the subject said that they were worried the E-cigs might be taken for real and lead to “confrontation.”

    Oh… so you’ve just now realized you demonized smokers to the point that people want to fight them for existing, and the solution for that is to force them further out back behind the barn so nobody has to see them, ever. Good job.

  2. Did the article address the other health effects of second hand smoke, such as heart disease, stroke, sudden infant death syndrome, and ear infections, pneumonia, bronchitis and asthma in children? Maybe there are enough other risks but I didn’t want to pay for the article to find out.

    • Did the article address the other health effects of second hand smoke, such as heart disease, stroke, sudden infant death syndrome, and ear infections, pneumonia, bronchitis and asthma in children?
      No one should be smoking around kids. Period.
      The Internet is chock full of reputable studies on the matter available for reading.
      Just because one new study says lung cancer is not linked to second hand smoke doesn’t automatically mean smoke is universally safe.
      Light up around an asthmatic and see what happens.

    • Wayne, you bring up one question I have for Jack: Why even use the prefix “crypto-?” I don’t care if they fit the modern American political definition of left or right, the wannabe control freaks are fascists, period.

  3. I am so very concerned about this this tactic of ‘the ends justify the means.’ It leads to so many hurt people and squashed lives… we should ban it.

  4. Does the Speaker suggest that we are all subjects in a grand experiment to control thought? Is the definition of the word “tolerance” morphing into something that means that the intolerant must accept the edicts of the enlightened?

    This issue, when taken alone, can be construed as isolated case where one aspect of human life subject to the social engineering of those that know better, is experiencing a “glitch” and that all we need to do is to “tweak” it to work out. The enlightened know that given enough time everyone will see how much better off they are.

    Juxtapose this issue with the DD Phil Robertson issue and it becomes less apparent that it is an isolated issue. “Free Speech has Consequences” proclaims the defenders of Gay rights. So how can something be free if it entails a personal cost? Perhaps no speech is truly free. But who determines the price of speech? Will it be the enlightened few?

    The New York Times quotes Speaker Christine Quinn explaining that allowing the devices in places where cigarettes are now banned also could “renormalize” smoking and undermine the public perception that the habit is now acceptable only outdoors or in private. “We don’t want a step backward with that,”

    Operative words in that statement are “renormalize” and “perception”.

    Does she mean that e- cigarettes will undermine all the hard word spent to get people to believe a fiction could devolve back to a true normal condition?

    Probably more important is that she used the word “perception” rather than a more objectively developed statement – “that undermines the evidence that proximity to smoke is a health risk”. She can’t because their is scant evidence to support the health risk. And, that the evidence that does exist may be corrupt.

    Perception is not always a reality. But if I can create a false reality I can effectively manage the unwashed masses.

      • Personal experience tends to give one definite opinions about “facts that are in doubt.” I don’t see an ethics issue in applying personal experience to the credibility of facts that may be more widely considered “in doubt.”

        Or, are you retracting your “Some-of-the-people-I-know-best-are…” defense of tolerance for homosexuality?

        • The fact that gay people are like any other people except that they have different sexual orientations is not in doubt. Some people refuse to accept the fact, but it isn’t in doubt.

          One cannot, for example, have an opinion that the sun is a big ball of cheese. It isn’t. Conversely, one cannot responsibly state as a fact that “the universe was made by a Supreme Being.” The facts are objectively in doubt. Experience doesn’t change that pivotal condition.

          • The fact that secondhand smoke is like any other environmental actor except that it harms people differently is not in doubt. Some people refuse to accept the fact, but it isn’t in doubt.

            Experience will never change the fact that “facts” will be forever objectively in doubt. We can persuade ourselves to believe that we who live today have more facts, more truth, and more evidence as proof of all that we consider facts and truth, all so close at hand, that we need only to be supremely skeptical about any conflicting inferences we draw from any particular experience. Ignoring experience doesn’t change the pivotal fact. But, of course, society always can make certain cognitive dissonance illegal, too…

  5. I thnk the back story on second-hand smoke to this post is another example of science and public policy communications mixed. The science gets screwed. One study, no matter how prestigious, is not full disproof of any proposition that has been properly established. But a propositiion that an entity exists (effect of second hand smoke) should not be established until there is no other way to explain the data.

    Mess with either rule and the slippery slopes lead effectively to flat out lying. I think the post is really pointing that out with emphasis and hooking it to the illiberal outcome. Thus the need for a phoney e-smoke protest.

    Maybe a large anti-e-smoker lobby could be faked, I mean formed. So a spokesperson can talk truth to power by satire:
    “Given the uncontestable scientific proof of the dangers of second hand e-smoke we, the non-e-smokers of America, want you to stop e-smoking for your own good (snuffle), need you to stop e-smoking to prevent the kids picking up the habit (wobbly lip) and to prevent insurance payouts when you get sick and die young (straight face). We demand that you give up e-smoking because our worry is more important to us than your freedom (flinty eyes). We mean this sincerely, we are concerned.” (Cries, real tears – I’m sure Jack Marshall knows some good actors)

    The debate needed is rights vs responsibilities. Not freedom vs enslavement. To do it right, the voice of science would need to be value free non-aligned and acknowledge doubt openly.

  6. To show I understand Jack’s point, I’ll amplify it. Movie reviews now caution that a movie contains scenes of smoking. This is considered more important than warning about scenes of murder. It is a safe bet that nobody has gotten cancer from seeing smoke on a movie screen.

    Face it, though. Smokers have _nobody_ to blame but themselves. Every time I’ve tried to eat downwind of a smoker, I’ve politely asked them to stop. They never do. I don’t mean rarely. I don’t mean seldom. Nor have they _ever_ returned the courtesy. Their boorishness would have guaranteed eventual ostracism even if secondhand smoke had been proven to cure cancer.

  7. Pingback: Anti-Smoking Ethics—And A Subversive (But Ethical!) Suggestion • The Spinfuel News Blog

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