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Fighting Back

Marvin R. Shanken, Gordon Mott
From the Print Edition:
Entourage, July/August 2009

The city of Spokane, Washington, proposed a smoking ban for its public golf courses, part of a broader ban on smoking in all public parks. Officials had already prohibited smoking near playgrounds, swimming pools and other park facilities, so the general consensus was that the ban could be extended to golf courses without much controversy.

They were wrong.

Here's a quote from a public hearing that was reported in the Associated Press: "If I was just walking and somebody was 300 feet away, I'm bothering them?" avid smoker and golfer Greg Presley told the Spokane Parks Board. "We've got to have some common sense."

Of course, that's a predictable response from a cigar-loving golfer. But read this quote at the same public hearing from a nonsmoking Spokane resident, Joel Bark: "It's a disgusting habit, but people have a right to make choices."

For now, the proposed ban is dead, and the Parks Board is on record as saying it may be a year or more before they reconsider it. Everyone agrees it was the outcry of both smokers and some libertarian-type nonsmokers that stalled the march toward a broader prohibition. And, that's why we're highlighting their action.

The Spokane episode shows what can be done when the people protest laws that begin to exceed the boundaries of common sense and infringe on a person's right to enjoy a legal product without inflicting any discomfort or possible harm on other people. If citizens of a community rise up and make themselves heard, it is possible to get public officials to reconsider their positions.

But you cannot be silent. The antismoking forces have had the playing field to themselves for more than 30 years, and they are not used to being thwarted by unified opposition to their pet projects. As time passes, the antis' basic strategy of completely demonizing every form of smoking is sounding more and more shrill, and being judged for what it is: an ideologically driven crusade to make all tobacco use illegal. Today, adults understand that tobacco use is a choice, and that choice is enlightened by the full knowledge of its potential dangers.

We have always argued for compromise. No one is suggesting we return to the days when smokers could light up anywhere at any time with no regard for those around them. But when laws become ridiculously over-protective—especially those based on such scientifically dubious claims as a perceived threat from secondhand smoke in an outdoor environment—there is good reason to stand up and say that it is going too far. This is certainly an area where a compromise to allow smoking is justified.

Other positive signs in recent months suggest the tide may be turning in the drive for outright prohibition of all smoking. Some cities have opened up to new cigar bars, others are looking for ways to allow the creation of smoking venues for those who want to enjoy tobacco. But don't get too optimistic. The antismoking lobby already senses the shift in public attitudes and is determined not to let their crusade get stalled before reaching its final goal.

The only way to slow the onslaught is to fight back. Like the people of Spokane did.

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