New Crimes Created To Control The American Public
June 28, 1998
A legislator in a state beset by serious problems recently crafted a bill to prohibit the operation of cellular phones in moving vehicles. The explicit intent is to protect the public from harm but the implicit motivation is made clear by the following key sentence:
Because a violation of this prohibition [using a cellular phone while driving] would be a crime, the bill would impose a state-mandated local program by creating a
The officious sentiment expressed in this bill illustrates why satire is a dying art in America. How can one ridicule the pompous when they so obviously rejoice in their own pomposity? Where is the pleasure in lampooning a politician so arrogant he rejoices in his ability to create a new crime from thin air? Now, more than ever, we need a Mark Twain to prick the inflated who are transforming this country into a utopia of hysteria.
The car phone bill will probably not make it into law. Too many angry mobile phone users and opposition from the highway patrol doom its passage. A smart legislator would have somehow included a gratuitous tobacco regulation.
From school board elections to the presidential race, campaigning on the "Tough on Tobacco" platform is this decade's political fad. Smoking regulations and restrictions are the new altars where politicians now worship, while obtusely ignoring that most Americans believe government intrudes quite enough into their lives.
Recent smoking restrictions range from the ridiculous -- outlawing smoking in bars -- to the sublimely ridiculous -- outlawing smoking outside airports bombarded by tons of pollutants spewed from aircraft and circling automobiles.
It is fashionable to trash the tobacco companies and they certainly face challenges unimaginable a few years ago. Anti-smoking extremists are working with tax dollars to destroy the industry while lawyers salivate at the billions they will collect in the upcoming shakedown.
The tobacco companies, however, are rich and can protect themselves from the fanatics. The tobacco industry is a cash cow whose milk enriches us all with tax revenue, employment and stock dividends. Since smoking is enshrined within our culture and will continue forever, only the most myopic politicians and zealous regulators seriously envision the day when the tobacco industry is no more.
Smoking restrictions and regulations, however, are not directed against the tobacco companies but are imposed upon individuals who generally don't have the resources to protect themselves. Smoking restrictions penalize business and property owners by obliterating individual choice in favor of bureaucratic control by a public health establishment whose goal is to eliminate smoking from American life. This quixotic goal has relegated the 60 million American citizens who smoke to second-class status. Worse, smokers are subjected to a relentless vilification seldom seen in American history.
The 1990's are the decade of legislative smoking restrictions although smoking restrictions dictated by custom or etiquette have existed for 500 years. Smoking doesn't occur in churches, theaters or anywhere else unless there is an agreement among those who share a common space. Common courtesy and mutual respect traditionally set the rules for tobacco use. Until recently, government did not involve itself with an innocuous pleasure that was regulated by the good will and consensus of those directly affected.
That live-and-let live ethos has been terribly battered during the past few years as the country has endured a public health effort that advocates the elimination of smoking as a national goal. Governments are redefining private property as public places subject to regulation by public health professionals. How have they made it their business to interfere in an activity, which should be the business of private individuals?
After the 1964 Surgeon General's Report on Smoking, millions quit smoking and millions more refrained from starting. The rate of decline, however, flattened out several years ago. Adult smokers in California rose by 11 percent last year and the upward trend is similar throughout the United States.
Smoking rates have always ebbed and flowed. The health establishment now sees its dubious goal of a smoke-free society slipping away and its response has been as predictable as any organization intent on grabbing power. Regulation, restrictions and persecution are time-honored tactics in forcing people to behave. If smokers won't quit for their own sakes, create a fear that they are harming others.
The 1993 Environmental Protection Agency's report on secondhand smoke provided the foundation upon which most smoking bans are based. The foundation is cracking as critics take aim at the EPA's report. The scrupulously independent Congressional Research Service highlighted serious flaws in its 1995 evaluation of the EPA's secondhand smoke study. Scientists and researchers are questioning the validity of the EPA's methodology and, despite the crude pressure tactics practiced by the anti-smoking establishment, more and more of them are speaking out against the corrupt science that produced the report.
Equally as disturbing as the EPA's misleading secondhand smoke report is the current spate of extreme anti-smoking regulations springing up in communities across the United States. These new restrictions don't pretend to protect non-smokers from the alleged harm of secondhand smoke but instead are so designed as to alienate the smoker from society.
Last year the nation jeered at Friendship Heights when its mayor proposed that smoking be banned from every street and public park in the tiny village outside Washington, DC. Concerns over secondhand smoke couldn't be used in the heavily polluted urban area so the mayor stated that he just didn't like the way people looked when they smoked. He also feared that children might think smoking is acceptable if they saw solid citizens smoking in public.
Most of the country is unaware that one year prior to the Friendship Heights controversy, the upscale California city of Palo Alto actually did pass an ordinance that forbade smoking in its downtown district. Other cities, including Berkeley, California and Sharon, Massachusetts have enacted various forms of outdoor smoking bans.
From these ostensibly irrational restrictions it's clear that the latest breed of smoking bans has one object only: to make life miserable for smokers in order to force them to quit. This effort of social control is unworthy of a country whose birth began with a revolution against brutal tyranny. A country whose credo is Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness deserves better than the coercive agenda advanced by a class of elitists whose self-righteous rants over public health cannot mask their aim of absolute control.
Mediocre politicians who waste our time banning mobile phone use and smoking in public would better serve us by spending time with the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution rather than concocting new crimes.
Enoch A. Ludlow