Most Precious Freedom

Yesterday, the expanded Clean Indoor Air Act went into effect. This act purports to protect employees and the public from second hand smoke.

First of all let me state that I don’t smoke cigarettes. I don’t like people smoking cigarettes near me when I am eating, didn’t when I was a smoker and don’t particularly enjoy being around cigarette smoke. When I patronized a place that allowed smoking, I lived with it because it was my choice to breathe smoke or not. Now that choice has been made for me, and that is very dangerous.

A few years ago, before it was the thing to do, I followed the high protein, low carbohydrate Atkins Diet. Every morning I went out for eggs and bacon, no toast or potatoes and every morning I was chastised.

“Oooh, how can you eat that?” Both friends and strangers alike mumbled as they passed my table, oat bran muffin clutched in hand.

I found it curious; the control and judgment people crave to have over others, approaching near addiction in itself. Now, the high protein diet is “hip,” many of those same people aggressively follow it. Hip-ness is a paradox. People prefer to be part of the winning team and unfortunately will follow any agenda to be there.

Now that we have entered this new era I hasten to ask what will happen to the old “smoke filled rooms?” What will politicians do without them? Will politics suddenly be rendered clean and pure as wind driven snow? Will “smoke-filled” backroom deals vanish as so much smoke? Hardly.

James Madison said, “Crisis is the rallying cry of the tyrant.” One tobacco-free coalition web site claims, “If you don’t think tobacco is an epidemic…get the facts!” The site even offers handy double-speak phrases suggested for dealing with customers. The controlling condescension of this “Act” is aimed at the manufactured outcast society. You’ve seen them, those huddled souls gathered on the sidewalk outside office buildings, smoking. These are the new “bad guys.” They are the ones we must indoctrinate, for the good of all mankind we must get their minds right! Right? “Two and two are five, Winston,” echoes in my head.

Here’s a thought, brand them, with real branding irons! Yeah, that’s it, a big “S” branded onto their forehead so we’ll know just whom these criminals are; recognizable even without a cancer stick jammed between their fingers! After all the point is to protect everyone, it makes us feel better, feel we’ve done our part to change the world.

Smoking is controversial; there’s reality in the health dangers. My father started smoking at 11, quit cold turkey at 81. He died at 96, cancer free. My mother started at 14, died of cancer at 44. She smoked until the end against doctor’s wishes, “I’m going to die, I like to smoke. It’s my choice.” Choice is at the heart of the matter here.

This new “Act” comes to us under the guise of protecting employees from second hand smoke, an admirable albeit specious purpose. I was once hired at the New York Times to sell subscriptions by phone. I showed up and found the workplace a dingy smoke-filled room with tiny cubicles. I immediately left. I was a smoker at the time, but I chose not to work in that environment. I needed the job, but I found another one. That was my choice.

The danger of the Clean Indoor Air Act is the denial of choice. The list of forbidden zones is lengthy, including bingo facilities and the canopy covered County Courthouse steps. The question is, why the need for a law? A business needs only put up a sign stating that smoking is not permitted, which, under the law now, all locations must still post. Why a need for the signs now, after all it's the law? Or perhaps what we need are more signs. How about signs reading, No Killing! No Stealing! Think that will work? How about signs in court rooms and board rooms, city halls and council chambers and legislative assemblies that say, No Lying? Think that'll do the trick? At least sign manufacturers will be happy.

As far as restaurants and bars are concerned, in our free enterprise system it makes perfect sense to offer customers a choice. Smoke-free or smoking-allowed establishments, the choice to work there or patronize the establishment should be yours, not the government’s. Pretty simple, huh? Apparently not, because the true objective here is not health, but control.

What’s next? “Up against the wall, Mr. Smith,” the Department of Control officer growls. “Your ‘Fat Gram Intake’ for the month has exceeded permissible levels, 30 days or $500.” I hear science fiction writers scrambling for their word processors. Fines for violations of the Clean Indoor Air Act can be up to $2000, more than most street corner crack dealers get, and tobacco is legal.

It is fascinating that the Clean Indoor Air Act took effect just 20 days after the 227th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. The Declaration states: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” So much for Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. Individual choice is our most precious freedom and it must not be infringed.

We’ll talk next time From The Road.

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