The signs say “no smoking.” The only problem is, they aren’t true.
The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this week that the signs, posted publicly by the New York Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation (OPRHP) are being protested by the group Citizens Lobbying Against Smoker Harassment (CLASH). The Journal quotes the group’s lawsuit as declaring, “[S]moking is in fact not prohibited in outdoor locations on OPRHP property.”
The problem stems from the fact that the policy hasn’t been, in the words of Mark Mulholland, “legally adopted.” The Village Voice was far less mature in author James King’s profane denunciation of the signs. “When the state attempted to implement a ban on smoking at public parks,” King writes, CLASH quickly pointed out to OPRHP that it “hadn’t followed its own rule-making process when enacting the ban. The result: the ban was lifted – the state conceded that because of the SNAFU, the ‘ban’ is now voluntary. The signs, however, remained.”
The problem is, according to CLASH, that the “voluntary” ban signs now “cause smokers to be subjected to hostile confrontations by non-smoking park visitors who will criticize, reprimand and ridicule them, and report them to the OPRHP staff and/or law enforcement personnel, because the non-smoking park visitors mistakenly believe that smoking is prohibited in outdoor areas.”
In other words, when smokers in New York public parks light up because smoking isn’t, in fact, illegal where they happen to be, self-righteous non-smokers are going to hassle them. The resulting confrontation could get ugly for all concerned, depending on how ornery both parties are feeling.
This is not a surprise. The activating spirit of modern “liberalism,” as exemplified by autocrats like Michael Bloomberg, is the desire to make the other fellow toe the line, to live his life for him, to control every aspect of his waking and sleeping hours while judging each and every one of his most personal decisions.
Smoking is one of those habits that is a frequent target of the libs because, like so many activities, it is popular, people enjoy it, and it is unhealthy. Libs cannot abide anything that other people enjoy. They are themselves joyless people; the thought of another human being taking pleasure in something spurs them to take action and stamp it out. As one of their favorite targets for social control, smoking has been taxed so severely that this has actually had a significant impact on the numbers of smokers within society.
The evil that is smoking has trumped freedom of both personal and commercial speech repeatedly, as regulations on tobacco advertising have made it illegal for cigarette producers to hawk their wares in various venues while smokers themselves have been confined, first to separate rooms, then to the outdoors, then to a specific distance beyond those doors, and finally to their homes. New regulations that would make it illegal to smoke in your car in the presence of your children even target the last few territories smokers may call their own, while regulations targeting smoking in apartment buildings and other shared dwellings could conceivably make it illegal to smoke in your own home.
Few, if any, dispute that smoking is unhealthy. Fewer still argue that a man or woman who smokes around their children is anything but an idiot. Cigarette smoke, to say nothing of the bugaboo that is “secondhand smoke,” causes a variety of health problems in those subjected to it, including asthma. Pregnant women who smoke risk a horrific list of birth defects. Smoking near children in a public park or on a public playground is like hanging a sign around your head that says, “I am an imbecile.” Yet smokers are repeatedly defended by libertarians and conservatives – in other words, right-thinking people who are usually on the correct side of moral and legal issues – on the grounds that smoking is an individual liberty unfairly infringed by an invasive state.
This is false. You have no right to smoke. Smoking is not, in fact, an individual liberty.
Perhaps it would be more correct to say that you have no right to smoke unless you do it while fully enclosed in deep-sea diving gear. Traditionally, libertarians understand individual rights to extend to that point at which they conflict with others’ rights. “Your right to swing your fist ends where my nose begins,” as the old saying goes. It is impossible to smoke without subjecting any and all persons in the immediate area who also happen to be breathing to your expelled smoke. This is exactly like urinating in public and splashing it on passers-by. There is absolutely no difference – with the exception that your urine is more easily avoided and less physically dangerous.
As for smoking in your home, while you do have the right to smoke on your own property, the danger to others (especially in shared dwellings like apartment buildings) represents a clear and present threat to your fellow citizens – meaning your individual right to smoke is curtailed by your distinct lack of a right to murder your fellow citizens carelessly. The NFPA asserts that fully one-fourth of all home structure fires that result in death are caused by “smoking materials.” That makes smoking the leading cause of all civilian home fire deaths. More significantly, one in every 20 fires that occur inside someone’s house, apartment, or other dwelling happens because some idiot smoker can’t be bothered to suck in his cancer cloud without setting fire to the place.
Except in rare and very controlled circumstances, smokers cannot confine their habit to their bodies alone. Smoking endangers every human being around you. Smoking in public places is obnoxious. Smoking at home is potentially very dangerous. Where all nearby consent or perhaps, such as at parties or cigar events, even join the smoker, there is no issue, but neither is smoking an individual right. It is an indulgence, not an individual liberty, and we would be well-advised to remember that fact.