Our hero. That's what we would call any elected official in 2010 who decides to veto a bill that bans smoking outdoors in all state-owned parks and beaches. That's why it easy to select California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, a two-time Cigar Aficionado cover subject, as our hero this month. He rejected a bill that was going to impose a no-smoking ban in every state park and on every state-owned beach, from the Pacific Ocean to the Sierras, from Oregon to Mexico. Among the other reasons that he cited, the governor said he didn't believe that the people wanted that degree of government intrusion in their lives.
Most public office holders are not that courageous. They simply acquiesce when a new piece of antismoking legislation or a more restrictive regulation comes across their desks. They don't bother to take a close look at the science behind the bans and form their own opinion regarding the facts-they simply accept the statements of the well-organized antitobacco advocates who have helped orchestrate this most recent wave of bans. They don't stop to consider for a moment that the law they are signing imposes more limits on a legal product that is sold over the counter without prescription than on any other legal product on the market. They ignore the fact that given current statistics, one in five of their constituents choose to smoke.
We don't want to be disingenuous here. No one argues that smoking, especially heavy cigarette smoking, is not harmful. The science regarding primary smoking is relatively solid. Where it begins to fall apart is for categories of smokers like cigar lovers, who by any definition smoke in moderation-the average Cigar Aficionado reader smokes no more than one cigar a day, and more than 92 percent don't inhale. And, when you begin to delve into the effects of secondhand smoke, the science is even less conclusive.
We accept the basic premise that environmental tobacco smoke-the more official name for secondhand smoke-can be an irritant to nonsmokers and therefore should be subject to a degree of regulation, especially in the work place. But let's be clear. This is largely a cosmetic measure that does not reflect the findings of the actual science. Once again, if you look at most scientific studies about tobacco, it takes a lifetime of primary exposure to see the kind of broad-based negative health effects seen in most studies.
But when you read or hear about a ban on outdoor smoking, the reasoning goes way beyond the science, and more and more begins to look and sound like a simple crusade against tobacco. And, in a nation where we are engaged in a healthy debate about the extent of government regulation across all aspects of our lives, we should be wary of knee-jerk laws that are based, at least in part, on a very biased, ideological assumption that tobacco is evil...no matter where or how it is used.
That's why we think Gov. Schwarzenegger is a hero. He has followed the letter of the law regarding indoor smoking in his state, creating a legal smoking area for his cigars at the State Capitol. But he also understands that there are limits, both governmental and scientific, when it comes to outdoor smoking bans. Maybe other elected officials will begin to understand that too.