Cigarette Nazis On the March

On November 20, 2001, Maryland's Montgomery County Council passed a measure whereby smokers whose neighbors are offended by the odor of cigarette smoke wafting from their homes would be fined up to $750. After the measure passed, County Executive Douglas Duncan promised to sign the bill giving Montgomery County one of the most restrictive anti-smoking measures in the nation. Council member Isaiah Leggett explained the proposed measure saying, "This does not say that you cannot smoke in your house; what it does say is that your smoke cannot cross property lines."

Less than a year ago, the Montgomery County Council, by a 5 to 4 vote, approved the outdoor smoking ban adopted by its nearby neighbor the Village of Friendship Heights, Maryland. That ban prohibited smoking on or in sidewalks, lawns, parks, buildings or other areas owned by the Village. First offenses would be subject to a warning, and subsequent offenses subject to a $100 fine. Dr. Alfred Muller, the Mayor of the Village, justified the adoption of the ban saying there are residents who have health problems, such as asthma and emphysema, plus "we are trying to change the social norm concerning tobacco use."

Last March a judge found the Village of Friendship Heights' health claims ridiculous and threw out its outdoor smoking ban. Montgomery County Executive Douglas Duncan didn't wait for the courts. After he promised to sign the anti-smoking bill, six days later he reversed course and vetoed it. Mr. Duncan's decision had nothing to do with coming to his senses over the issue. It was the massive national ridicule heaped upon Montgomery County officials over their heavy-handed tactics.

The health arguments offered about the harmful effects of tobacco smoke crossing property lines are but so much bunk. Yes, there are some who have emphysema, asthma or allergies and are annoyed by cigarette smoke. These people may also be annoyed by other air borne products such as hair spray, after-shave lotions, perfumes, clothing softeners, fire place smoke, cooking odors and deodorants. Should they be able to make a complaint and have the police knock on their neighbor's door and tell them to cease and desist. Should we change airport announcements that say, "In the interest of a healthy indoor air quality, smoking is not permitted in public areas."? Should a more health inclusive announcement say, "In the interest of a healthy indoor air quality, passengers are not permitted to smoke, wear perfumes, hair sprays, deodorants, after-shave lotion or wear clothing that's been rinsed in fabric softeners."? Or should we just have odor and odor-free seating sections on airplanes?

America's cigarette Nazis, like any other tyrant, cannot be satisfied. In the 60s, when they started out, they wanted no smoking sections on airplanes. Had they revealed their complete agenda: no smoking on airplanes, airports, restaurants, jobs, streets, not to mention confiscatory taxes, they wouldn't have gotten anything.

So far as confiscatory taxes, cigarette Nazis are being challenged by one of my heroes - the smuggler. Some states, such as Washington and Michigan, have taxes that make a carton of cigarettes cost as much as $48. Why is the smuggler my hero? It's easy. People want to and have the right to engage in peaceable, mutually agreeable, voluntary exchange and a third party - government - tells them no. The smuggler thwarts the government's mission of interference. Before we go bad-mouthing smugglers, we might consider that a number of the men we celebrate each Fourth of July, including John Hancock, the first signer of our Declaration of Independence, were smugglers. At that time it was the British Parliament imposing confiscatory taxes; today it's federal, state and local governments. Confiscatory taxes are an abuse of power regardless of what government levies them.

Walter E. Williams
December 10, 2001
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