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Our Heroes

Marvin R. Shanken, Gordon Mott
From the Print Edition:
Jimmy Smits, May/June 2005

We've said for years that the only way to win the war against the antitobacco zealots is for individuals to take action. It's not easy. Defending tobacco today is much like trying to defend witchcraft in seventeenth-century Salem, Massachusetts. It's a no-win proposition much of the time that can leave the defender virtually tarred and feathered, and accused of everything from being ignorant to not caring about kids to being self-destructive.

But that hasn't stopped people from standing up for the principles of freedom of choice, for defending the right of adults to use a legal product, for arguing that the case against tobacco has frequently been built on ideology, not science. If one thing is true, however, it's that even a victory here or there doesn't stop the antismoking zealots. They keep distorting the truth, never stopping for a second to reflect that they may be bending the facts, or just outright lying to meet their ultimate goal: the prohibition of tobacco.

Here are some people that we've come across who aren't afraid to dive right into the issue:

Maine Sen. Deborah Plowman, R-Hampden. This lawmaker has introduced a bill in Maine that would allow cigars to be shipped into the state. Current state law prohibits the shipment of all tobacco products by mail. Her comment? "There's a culture of people, and [cigars are] part of something they enjoy. It's not a habit but a choice, like fine wine or a gourmet product to them. Senator Plowman doesn't smoke cigars or cigarettes, but seems to understand the fundamental rights of adults.

Michael Fomento. A senior fellow at the Hudson Institute: a non-partisan policy research group. Fomento has spoken and testified extensively in the last 10 years about the weakness in the science that has been used to justify smoking bans based on the dangers of passive smoke. He recently testified at a hearing in Lakewood, Ohio, which was considering the imposition of a citywide smoking ban. He was the only witness arguing against the ban; five people supported it. Fomento spotlights examples like the 1993 Environmental Protection Agency Report, which needed to alter standard statistical procedures to come up with a link between passive smoke and lung cancer, and how one of the largest passive smoking studies (35,000 participants) showed no causal link between exposure to passive smoking and tobacco-related mortality."

Citizens United. This group in Baxter County, Arkansas, is fighting to oppose local smoking bans. According to a published report, in less than week after its first meeting in late February, the group had 2,500 names of people on a petition who were opposed to the blanket ban in their area.

The Publican Party. In Scotland, a political party has been formed to oppose the Scottish Executive's, the equivalent of a Parliament, ban on smoking in pubs. The party was started by Kit Fraser and Don Lawson, who say that smokers are entitled to the same rights in pubs as nonsmokers. The party will contest for seats in three areas this year, and will field candidates across Scotland for the 2007 elections. Finally, we'd like to bring to your attention a Web site, www.thesmokersclubinc.com, a newsletter-style Internet site that keeps track of everything that's happening regarding tobacco, from new tax laws to smoking bans. It provides up-to-date information about the state of tobacco in every state and around the world. It was the source for the information in this editorial.

Individual efforts, and attempts to educate, are the kind of things that can make a difference. If the antismoking crusaders operate without opposition in the political arenas, then lawmakers don't feel any heat for imposing these smoking bans. By engaging in the debate, people can argue for accommodation for smokers and compromises that allow smoking sections in places like bars and restaurants. Defend your rights. It's what makes democracy work.

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