As with my column two weeks ago on the wisdom of smoking bans, my suggestion that private property rights and freedom of choice should be respected elicits a visceral reaction from hard-core smoking-ban proponents who believe no issue takes precedent over the public's "right" to breathe clean air. Like die-hard pro-lifers — the kind who stand on street corners with signs featuring aborted fetuses — there's no talking to these people as they can't even concede that there's room for debate. They have their facts, and they're sticking to them.
And what are those facts? Basically, that secondhand smoke kills people, as evidenced by former Surgeon General Richard Carmona's 2006 report. From a common-sense perspective, Carmona's contention that exposure to secondhand smoke is as dangerous as directly inhaling 20 cigarettes a day doesn't really make sense, and yet he felt his evidence was conclusive enough to declare that the "debate is over" on the issue.
Likewise, common sense supporters of abortion rights have a hard time wrapping their heads around the notion that a woman pregnant for just a few weeks is carrying an actual human being. But for pro-lifers, there is no debate, and some even have the science to prove it. Writes scientist John F. Cogan, "I have always been pro-life as a matter of intuition. However, as I gradually built up the scientific data, its cumulative impact reinforced my gut feeling that the unborn child really is a human being from the moment of its conception." Cogan's website is dedicated to pro-life-oriented science and has been endorsed by multiple doctors and fellow scientists.
Pro-choice progressives, many of whom are nearly hysterical in their support for smoking bans, wouldn't even give a pro-lifer like Cogan the time of day — science or no science — and yet they accuse those opposed to smoking bans of being hopelessly backward for ignoring scientific "facts." If Cogan were appointed U.S. Surgeon General and declared that all abortion was murder — would the debate be over, as many insist it is with secondhand smoke? Is it worth considering that even science can be politically driven?
Smoking ban proponents have used their favorite scientific facts to run roughshod over freedom of choice in the name of protecting the public at large. If science determined that life begins at conception (as scientists like Cogan already claim), then should a woman's right to choose end? And if not, by what moral rationale is it OK to be "pro-choice" on abortion, but not smoking?
Conservative philosopher Russell Kirk believed that the definition of a fanatic is someone who seizes upon a slice of truth, or at least perceived truth, and harps on it incessantly. Such people aren't necessarily wrong, but they become so obsessed with one aspect of an argument that they can't see anything else.
Being exposed to secondhand smoke is undeniably unhealthy, but to say that what is likely a minor or even negligible health risk should take total precedent over something as serious as property rights or any other consideration is an inherently fanatical view. Saying that property rights simply don't matter is the same as saying the right of a woman to control her own body doesn't matter.
I know many people who like the smoking ban personally, but disagree with it politically. And I know folks who state bluntly "I don't like being around smoke and am glad there's a ban." Fine. At least they're honest. But the fanatics, who suffer from the illusion that they are doing the general public an invaluable service by protecting them from secondhand smoke, tend to be insistent to the point of insanity, coming off as benevolent buffoons, impervious to any and all reason.
On issues like abortion and secondhand smoke, I believe there are valid points to be made by both sides of each argument. But the importance of being pro-life, whether that means protecting unborn children or non-smokers, does not automatically discount the importance of being pro-choice, whether that means protecting personal privacy or property. The most significant difference between banning smoking and banning abortion is that banning smoking is more popular and politically-correct.
The quality of both life and liberty has always been indispensable to the health of our republic, and both suffer when fanatics of any stripe are given carte blanche to do their damage. That certain bad policies remain popular is no justification. And that a certain brand of fanaticism is more fashionable should never make it more acceptable.
Catch Southern Avenger commentaries every Tuesday and Friday at 7:50 a.m. on the "Morning Buzz with Richard Todd" on 1250 AM WTMA.