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What's Happened to the Constitution?

Marvin R. Shanken, Gordon Mott
From the Print Edition:
Morgan Freeman, Mar/Apr 2005

The attacks on smokers, and the moves to restrict smoking areas, have begun to take away rights that the U.S. Constitution promised each and every American. Employers and local governments are now going to extreme lengths to stop people from smoking, even on their own time and in their own home:

A health care company in Michigan has begun firing anyone who smokes, even on his own time, after hours or at home. The county that governs Tampa, Florida, has instituted a policy that prohibits hiring any smokers for its police force, and it will begin to encourage a no-smoking policy among current employees. Alaska Airlines has begun a nicotine-testing program for any job applicants in states where it is allowed to test. The Saco, Maine, city government has prohibited all smoking on city property, which means firefighters, on 24-hour shifts, can't smoke at all, even outside of their firehouses. At least two major California cities—Fresno and San Francisco—have passed ordinances to prohibit smoking in any city park, and another, San Jose, may not be far behind. San Francisco even considered, but then ultimately rejected, a ban on golf course smoking. Newport Beach, California, has banned smoking on the beach.

Outrageous! Where's the outcry? Why aren't we screaming bloody murder about institutions, both public and private, invading our private lives? Don't we all live and work in America? Isn't this the country where the Constitution actually gives every citizen some assurance of privacy and freedom? The police and the government can't go snooping around inside your home or put you under surveillance in public unless they have court-issued warrants, and something called probable cause. But these companies and local governments are stepping into your private lives and activities in open, public spaces, and limiting when and where citizens can light up.

Where does it stop?

After all, the medical profession has identified a number of behaviors that are bad for people's health. Will companies begin prohibiting people from going to their local fast food outlet because it might make them fat? Or, will companies start checking your supermarket bills to be sure you're buying low-fat milk and avoiding the ice cream? Shouldn't ice cream be banned? Or, is the next step for your employer to tell you, "You're overweight, you're fired"? Or, will someone start suggesting that going on a ski trip exposes employees to the risk of injury, and therefore they can't do that? What about more intrusive questions about your personal behaviors such as how much TV you watch, which house of worship you attend or which radio commentators you do, or do not, listen to?

'"Everything we do affects our health,'' Lewis Maltby, director of the National Workrights Institute, a spin-off of the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a recent newspaper article. "What you eat, whether you drink, what your hobbies are, whether you practice safe sex. If employers are allowed to control off-duty behavior when it's health-related, we will have no private lives left."

That kind of intrusion is just not right in America. We live in a free country.

You've got your head in the sand if you think these kinds of attacks will always be limited to tobacco products. When the first indoor smoking bans were proposed, the idea was to protect people, like the employees in restaurants, from secondhand smoke. But the concept behind these new regulations goes way beyond protecting the supposed innocent; this is about protecting you from yourself, which has no place in a free society.

Tobacco and smoking are the wedges that are being used to lay the legal precedents, which will then be used to stop other activities. Anything that is deemed by some interest group to be harmful to the greater good could come under attack.

We should all be shouting as loud as possible, ENOUGH.

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