Readers of this site will have notice that for the past few years we have waxed pessimistic on the value of invoking property rights as an argument against smoking bans. While we certainly revere property rights as an essential component of just societies we recognize that we no longer live in a just society, an observation that is neither original nor confined to those who have deplored the pathology of anti-tobacco. Two years ago we released our position on property rights and health. In brief we assert that in any conflict between property rights and health, health will always prevail. Arguing against smoking bans based on the sanctity of private property is a futile exercise because health trumps all other values.
We have taken a lot of heat for this view but events, sadly, have confirmed that our position is correct. Our error, as well as that of those who still imagine property rights to be a paramount value, was that it took us so long to reach our conclusion. The destruction of property rights over the past 20 years was out in the open yet those of us currently fighting the anti-tobacco agenda in FORCES were too decent and too naive to believe that right before our eyes private property was becoming meaningless and irrelevant. The people who continue to deploy property rights as a weapon against smoking bans are and will cast aside their naiveté as the glaring indecency and depravity of their opponents is revealed.
One such revelation hit the doorsteps of Bay Area homes Wednesday with the morning delivery of the San Francisco Chronicle. Inside were reports from city council meetings held in two cities, Belmont and Oakland, about proposed legislation that will ban smoking in privately-owned homes. Trivialities differentiate the two cities’ bills but at the core of both is the explicitly stated premise that government has the authority to prohibit a lawful consumption of a legal product within the confines of one’s home. A councilmember from Belmont couldn’t be plainer when referring to banning smoking in multiunit housing:
"We’re responding to a health and safety concern," said City councilman William Dickenson. "We need to step back and look at what we’re doing when we are legislating in the home. We have the right to do that, but you have to be very careful when you do that."
We have the right, he says, and so he does. When a condition produces a health hazard the state not only has the right but the duty to eliminate it. That the condition exists in someone’s home doesn’t absolve the government of its responsibility. Secondhand smoke, no matter where it occurs, kills people. There is no safe exposure level for secondhand smoke so when even an invisible, odorless, infinitesimal amount of the stuff intrudes upon a nonsmoker it must be eradicated. Adhering to those two criteria means that smoking cannot occur in any unit that shares common walls, ventilation systems or common areas such as hallways or patios outdoors. Compromise, the traditional method used to resolve conflict between individuals, is not an option. Smoking must be forbidden completely.
From requiring smoking sections on privately owned commercial airliners, through mandatory smoking sections in privately owned restaurants to absolute smoking bans in all workplaces, which include all private property where people, either as employees or invited guests, congregate, prohibition always prevails over the quaint notion of property rights. The only difference between commercial private property and the home is sentiment. A man’s home is his castle, so we are taught. The castle has been breached. When Belmont and Oakland do impose smoking bans on multiunit dwelling they will be continuing a trend that will culminate with regulations that govern smoking in all residences whether multiunit or not. The goal is not to prohibit tobacco but to render the smoking of it illegal everywhere. Invoking property rights will not derail that goal.
Taking on the secondhand smoke fraud head is the only rational tact to employ in defeating the prohibitionists. Research on secondhand smoke, produced and compiled, oddly enough, by anti-tobacco itself, exonerates secondhand smoke as a hazard. It is a hard fact that there is not one piece of evidence, scientific or epidemiologic, that justifies the imposition of any smoking ban. Wasting time, money and resources on the Quixotic quest to derail anti-tobacco’s scheme with a call to respect property rights must end. Property rights don’t exist. What does exist is the proof that the secondhand smoke scare is a deliberate, carefully orchestrated fraud. Run with that and we will have a chance to decapitate the monstrous evil that is anti-tobacco.
Note: For reasons of its own the San Francisco Chronicle’s online and print news reports about the city council meetings Tuesday evening in Belmont and Oakland differ significantly. Councilman Dickenson’s death knell quote, for instance, on property rights appears only in the print version. We have included a link to the online version as well as one to an image of the print version.