Anti-smoking fanatics have taken my part of the country by storm.
Beginning January 1, 2008, the state of Illinois became entirely smoke-free. That means that in public parks, restaurants and even bars, smoking of any type is expressly prohibited. An organization called Smoke Free St. Louis is attempting to achieve the same objective on our side of the Mississippi River, simultaneously pushing the St. Louis City and St. Louis County governments to adopt ordinances that would ban smoking even in privately owned businesses.
To his great credit, St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay (a Democrat) shot down all hopes of a smoking ban in the city. However, the city of Clayton, the ritzy suburban St. Louis business hub, remains under siege by anti-smoking fanatics who wish to ban smoking in all public places.
It's one thing for the government to ban smoking on publicly owned premises, such as city parks or government buildings. It's an entirely different thing to bring the hammer down on privately owned businesses, already neck-deep in red tape and taxes.
Of course smoking is unhealthy.
You know what else is unhealthy?
McDonalds. Jack in the Box. Soda. Beer. Fast cars. Traveling long distances. General laziness.
Would nanny staters like to legislate those out of existence as well?
Each week, I try to incorporate 2-3 days of weightlifting and 2-3 days of cardio exercise into my routine. I do not do this because I particularly enjoy lifting heavy things, nor running in St. Louis' extraordinarily muggy temperatures during the summer. Rather, I do it because I made a conscious decision to treat my body reasonably well.
If anti-smoking fanatics' main -- and really, only -- argument is based on the obvious health benefits of not smoking, then what is next? There are obvious health benefits to drinking milk instead of Coke. There are similarly obvious health benefits to choosing Subway over Taco Bell. There are obvious health benefits to regular exercise.
If the government is able to ban smoking in privately owned restaurants and bars because smoking is unhealthy, why shouldn't it be able to force citizens to exercise twice a week?
If an individual qualifies as "morbidly obese," why shouldn't the government be able to hit that individual's fast food purchases with astronomical taxes?
Additionally, and equally as critically, there is no cognizable reason whatsoever that the government should be able to mandate to a private business owner that he or she must not allow smoking in his or her private establishment. It's absolute lunacy to claim otherwise.
The main argument I hear anti-smoking fanatics citing is that when one goes to a restaurant or bar, he or she should not be forced to encounter cigarette smoke.
Is someone holding a gun to your head, demanding that you eat at that particular restaurant?
If so, by all means, dine at said restaurant.
But if not ...
DON'T EAT THERE! GO SOMEWHERE ELSE!
CALL THE MANAGER AND COMPLAIN ABOUT HIS POLICIES!
I suppose that, in addition to being unable to make choices about how to spend my money wisely (I'll take those Air Jordans over that health insurance, please), I am also unable to decide where to dine.
I genuinely wonder if there is something terribly wrong with me that I find this particular argument so patently insulting.
It is one thing for the government to choose to ban smoking in public places, such as a city park or government building. But it's an entirely different proposition to mandate to privately owned businesses that they must do the same.
The underlying principle of the American model is that the consumer's use of the almighty dollar is the most legitimate way to effectuate change in any market.
If you'd like to make a change in a restaurant's policies as a customer, terrific. Choose to dine with a competitor, then the next day, call the restaurant and inform them where you dined and why you chose to do so. They'll listen.
Such principles are invariably crushed by the nanny state when anti-smoking crusaders beat down the doors of private establishments with the strong arm of the government, and demand that they succumb to insulting, fanatical policies crafted by an obnoxious minority that has nothing better to do with its time.
How far should this principle be extended?
Let me pose a hypothetical. Let's say my wife and I, in an act of staggering goodwill to the community, put out signs in front of our apartment complex, opening our apartment to anyone in the neighborhood for a party during the Christmas season. We will provide food, cocktails and an enclosed gathering area where people can visit with one another. And let's say one or two of our guests are smokers and wish to enjoy a cigarette on our balcony. How does this differ from the smoking bans that anti-smoking fanatics are pushing on cities and municipalities nationwide?
Members of the general public, lawfully invited, will be at my residence to dine. I will be serving food and drink. Our guests will be in an enclosed area. And the number of people in our apartment might well be more people than would be in a neighborhood bar affected by a smoking ban.
How does my above hypothetical differ from a bar or restaurant?
It doesn't. And that's the point.
I look forward to the day when the government bans me from enjoying a cigar when entertaining visitors in my own home.
I also look forward to the day when it has finally outlawed double cheeseburgers.
Leave me alone.