Investigate claims in smoking debate

Posted: Wednesday, December 10, 2003

I was privileged to attend the Chamber of Commerce's panel discussion on expanding the CBJ smoking ordinance. The documented data and personal experience testimony of both sides was very compelling and honest. I particularly admired the courage of Joan Cahill representing the group sponsoring this measure. She civilly withstood audience bullying while giving assertions apparently unpopular to the listening majority. Attendees even saw a majority concession to the dangers of smoking and secondhand smoke, and the relevance of segregation of smokers from the general public. I personally came away with a greater acceptance of CBJ's existing smoking ordinance. But I must comment on some omissions.

The position of personal choice regarding self-inflicted vices like smoking was only backed up by expressions of personal conviction about the liberty to choose. The relevance of constitutional protection of freedom of association was not directly discussed. Also omitted was any discussion of using education instead of laws as a tool to eradicate vice and destructive habits. A great misuse of lawmaking is trying to use just the force from law to control the ignorance that is creating social problems. Temporary gun-to-the-head legislation to permit time for education to bite is one thing. Continuous use of only force through legislation is another. Just ask any cop about the law enforcement overwhelm from depending on laws for culture.

The conclusion was advanced that discrimination against non-smoker preferences justifies law enforcing public discrimination against smoker preferences, even in currently excluded bars and private clubs. This effective prohibition of smoking in public was justified with convincing documentation of the dangers of secondhand smoke. Omitted was any treatment of the reality that our society is riddled with the practices of self-inflicted vices/destructive habits. Therefore no comparison was given to show why second-hand smoke prevention now needs additional action while ignoring other comparable threats to human well-being. In addition, the science provided for the assertion that air-handling and ventilation technology can't minimize secondhand smoke particulates was inadequate and flimsy.

Lawmakers accepting unevaluated/unverified conclusions from "experts" and special interests, and acting on them without looking, is exactly what destroys the credibility of representative government. I urge the Juneau Assembly to investigate the data behind all the conclusions being pushed in this smoking debate. Study constitutional references, and historical precedents like Prohibition and the war on drugs. Don't buy that literacy and the average inquiring mind is not enough.

Stuart Thompson

Auke Bay

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