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Beyond Belief

Marvin R. Shanken, Gordon Mott
From the Print Edition:
Kevin Costner, July/August 2008

It's summertime. Cigar smokers, especially in the northern half of the United States, love this time of year because there are so many more places to smoke in the great outdoors. Some of you enjoy a smoke on the golf course. Some of you find solace on your backyard patio or terrace. Some of you may even just find a bench on a city street, and watch the world go by while you relax with your favorite cigar.

You would think that government officials would be willing to leave smokers alone outdoors. After all, in many cities, it is where they have forced smokers to go in the wake of banning all indoor smoking. It wasn't long, however, before the authorities even began to restrict where you could smoke outside, with rules prohibiting lighting up within 25 feet or so of a building entrance. And we all remember Calabasas, California, a city that simply banned smoking in public, indoors or outdoors.

But other cities are starting to get on the bandwagon too. Another California city, Pasadena, recently passed a regulation that would prohibit all outdoor smoking, even in areas where the state's antismoking law allows it, such as on restaurant terraces and patios. Anto Kamarian, a smoke shop owner in Pasadena, attended the city council meeting where the ban was discussed and then approved. He related that opponents of the ban were given two minutes each to voice their opposition. And he noted that to help support its decision, the city cited a study done in Calabasas about the absence of any negative impact on local businesses; there was one catch—the report only cited the city manager of Calabasas and didn't pass along any results from actual business owners in the city.

It is virtually impossible today to keep up with the pace of more and more restrictive bans on public smoking. But here are just a few more cities that have banned all public smoking: Beverly Hills and El Cajon, California, and West Lafayette, Indiana. There will be more apparently, because it isn't enough for the antismoking zealots to push smokers outside—their ultimate goal is to prohibit all enjoyment of tobacco products. Anywhere. Anytime.

We don't get it. We know that there are people who simply can't tolerate the idea of anyone smoking, and some others who fly into a rage at even the whiff of tobacco smoke. But there is simply no scientific basis on which to outlaw smoking outdoors. If people were as sensitive to, say, automobile fumes as they are to tobacco smoke, we would be headed back to horse and buggy days. But even if you accept the notion that secondhand smoke in an enclosed area is bad for you, that is based on the idea that a high concentration of tobacco smoke is harmful. We won't argue that conclusion here. But when you smoke outdoors, there is no way to argue that tobacco smoke reaches any kind of dangerous level.

Mr. Kamarian plans on filing a lawsuit to contest the new regulation in Pasadena. That's one of the best ways to make local governments take notice. They can't just steamroll over the rights of the individual, especially when the individual's behavior is not harming anyone else. It's up to us to draw the line. It is the only way to ensure that the behavior police are stopped before they strip away all of our pleasures and rights.

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