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Stogie Commentary: Chipping Away at Our Rights

20 May 2009



Make no mistake, the well-funded, well-connected professional activists who oppose tobacco are far from sensible people looking to place so-called “reasonable restrictions” on tobacco. The truth is, almost all are deceitful opportunists who won’t stop until tobacco is taxed or regulated out of existence (or at least pushed completely into an underground black market).

These anti-tobacco zealots are too smart to ever admit their ultimate goal in public, even though occasionally they let their secret slip. Instead, they twist science to deceptively present themselves as reflective, thoughtful advocates who just happen to continuously find “problems” in need of “solutions,” which always amount to more tobacco taxes, more regulations, and more expansive smoking bans.

Recently, these incremental steps towards tobacco prohibition have often been presented as closing loopholes, leveling the playing field, or combating problems seemingly unrelated to smoking. It seems the anti-tobacco crowd has taken to heart the lesson of the boiling frog, which goes something like this: If you throw a frog into a pot of boiling water, he’ll jump out. But if you place the frog into a pot of lukewarm water and slowly turn up the heat, it will boil to death.

I suspect they realize that if they are forthright about their ultimate goal of prohibition, they know they would lose credibility and could even unleash a backlash, as those whose freedom of choice they seek to limit would rally to defend their right to enjoy tobacco. However, if the steps towards total prohibition are small enough, like the frog, we won’t act until it is too late.

Three examples show how the tobacco banners present more regulation, taxation, and smoking bans as merely fixes to “loopholes” or “problems” in existing laws:

Congress Takes on Mail-Order Tobacco Sales

This week, Congress is debating a ban on mail-order cigarette sales. It seems that many states are losing revenue as consumers seek to avoid punitive cigarette taxes. Instead of buying a pack of cigarettes for $10 in New York City, they are ordering them through the mail for less than half the price.

Never mind that it’s the excessively high taxes that are forcing people to look for less expensive ways to get tobacco. The anti-smokers say the solution isn’t to re-examine the taxes that created this pseudo-black market, but to create more restrictions and make the postal service, and companies like Fed-Ex, police the contents of every package shipped over state lines. At least so far, the regulation only affects cigarettes, but that’s just another “loophole” waiting to be closed.

Anti-Smokers Say Nebraska Smoking Ban ‘Unfair’

Meanwhile, in Nebraska, after a battle to ban smoking in all restaurants and bars, a deal was eventually struck that would ban smoking everywhere except cigar bars where cigars and pipes would be allowed, but not cigarettes. But the anti-tobacco zealots at the American Cancer Society thought even that most limited exemption was a problem, and they even found novel way to suggest that it was unconstitutional.

According to their tortured reasoning, the ban was an unfair benefit to cigar bars. It seems after banning smoking in all these restaurants and bars, they suddenly claimed to be concerned with the competitive disadvantage that the ban’s victims were put in. Naturally, the “solution” they were seeking—which fortunately was rejected by the Nebraska Attorney General—was to extend the ban to include cigar bars.

San Francisco Pushes Butt Tax

As reported by the New York Times yesterday, San Francisco’s mayor is pushing a tax increase on cigarettes. (No word yet on any effect on cigars.) His reasoning? Smokers, who have been forced out of bars by city and state smoking bans, were creating litter by leaving their cigarettes in the street.

Citing the cost of cleaning up the cigarette butts, Mayor Gavin Newsom wants to increase the cigarette tax. Obviously, the idea of allowing smoking back into bars where staff can clean up butts and provide smokers with ashtrays isn’t being considered. Instead, the “solution” is to raise taxes further.

In all three situations, the “problems” were created when freedoms were limited by policies advocated by the anti-tobacco crowd. Yet somehow the solutions are always more anti-free choice policies.

It has become quite clear that we smokers are becoming the frog, standing idly by as our freedom to smoke is stolen from us one degree at a time. My fear is if we don’t start fighting back soon, it will be too late and our freedoms will have evaporated completely.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Drew Estate

17 Responses to “Stogie Commentary: Chipping Away at Our Rights”

  1. Benjy Wednesday, May 20, 2009 at 4:40 am #

    Your astonishing level of insight is always appreciated Patrick.

    It seems that smokers everywhere have become 2nd class citizens, expected to be content with whatever scraps the vast majority that is ben on oppression throws at us. And I'm afraid that a policy of appeasement will work as well as it did 70 years ago.

  2. Padronnie Wednesday, May 20, 2009 at 4:58 am #

    Ironically,I read that along with cigarette butts, San Fran has a problem with used condoms and needles in its streets.

    Of course, the city continues to give both those away for free.

  3. st Wednesday, May 20, 2009 at 5:50 am #

    "Appeasement?" Seriously, guys, you don't have to compare every political element you don't like to the Nazis, and every negotiation to Chamberlain's capitulation. Remove stick, please.

    Smoking bans are laws, like any other. You don't like them, advocate against them, get people on your side, etc. But you are not in a war, and the anti-smokers are not genocidal lunatics bent on world domination.

    I believe the smoking ban advocates are wrong, and they should allow businesses (and the employees of those businesses) the right to choose how to conduct their business and their lives. But I don't think they are Nazis.

  4. raul Wednesday, May 20, 2009 at 7:09 am #

    st-

    I can't speak for Benjy, but you seem to be projecting. He reffered to appeasement and how it didn't work 70 years ago. Politicians refer to appeasement all the time (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Appeasement) and ti doesn't equate the parties to Nazis. It just happens that the most prominent failure of appeasement involved Nazi Germany.

    Think of it this way:

    Nazis enacted smoking bans. Nazis competed in the olympics. Nazis disliked French people. Nazis ate three meals a day. Nazis attempted to exterminate a race of people.

    If you can't figure out how to judge everything they did on their own merits, you're the one with the problem.

  5. Mike Wednesday, May 20, 2009 at 11:01 am #

    A corrrection and a comment:

    The debate over exempting cigar bars was in Nebraska, not Oklahoma.

    I do not believe California allows cities to impose their own sales or tobacco taxes, so I expect Newson’s proposal would require a change in California law. But I could be wrong.

  6. raul Wednesday, May 20, 2009 at 11:31 am #

    st-

    I believe the point of the article is you can’t “give a little” in this fight, with the hope being that if just give up a little more of our freedom then the anti-tobacco forces will stop pushing. Those who hate smoking and want it illegal will use any reason to make it so. Even, as the article demonstrates, when their own policies are responsible.

    That’s pretty much the definition of “appeasement” isn’t it?

    BTW, noting the similarities between the Nazis (or any even in WWII) and something else doesn’t make them morally equivilant.

    Negotiations require good faith. You aren’t dealing with any good faith if you’re trying to strike a deal over the reasonable limits of a smoking ban with someone who just sees the subject as a stepping stone towards complete prohibition.

  7. st Wednesday, May 20, 2009 at 11:47 am #

    raul –
    I understood the point of the article, and I agreed with it. And in your first and last paragraphs, you articulately expressed the futility of making concessions to a position that is not negotiating in good faith.

    And you didn’t even mention the Nazis once in those paragraphs, or hearken back to the world-historical struggle “70 years ago.” See how easy it is to avoid overblown comparisons and self-aggrandizing drama? That’s all I’m saying.

    Nazi metaphors are not just metaphors; comparing someone to a Nazi is not value-equal to comparing them to a player in a memorable playoff game or another innocuous reference. Calling someone a Nazi is different. To take another example, I don’t really like lamb chops. Could you call me a racist against lamb chops? Sure, the metaphor works, I have an antipathy based on a genetic category. But it would seem awkward and overblown. Just like comparing a city councilman pushing a smoking ban to a nazi warlord seeking domination for an Aryan superrace.

  8. Patrick S Wednesday, May 20, 2009 at 11:55 am #

    st- You write: “Smoking bans are laws, like any other. You don’t like them, advocate against them, get people on your side, etc. But you are not in a war…”

    I don’t know whether I consider it a “war” or not (I do feel like I need to defend my rights which are constantly under attack), but I do know that the other side considers it a war.

    Take a look at the language used by the anti-tobacco activists, they regularly refer to the “war on smoking.” Here’s just one example.

  9. Dirk Wednesday, May 20, 2009 at 12:09 pm #

    Another state that recently gave in to pressure from the anti-tobacco crowd is Wisconsin. The most vexing part about this bill that everyone seems to overlook is that they discretely added a word that severely limits the exemption. In the bill, smoking will only be allowed in “existing” cigar and tobacco shops. How the pro-tobacco lobbyists overlooked that is beyond me.

  10. Charlie Wednesday, May 20, 2009 at 12:22 pm #

    I think Patrick makes an assertive point when faced with a foe for whom “moderation” has become an anomaly, even though it might rub some people the wrong way. Quibbling over whether or not antismokers actually represent the moral equivalence of Nazi Germany seems, in the context of the battle engaged, like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. I took it to mean that the antismokers have slowly taken control, in a similar way to the Nazi political support in the 30’s, not that the antismokers themselves are comparable ideologically. I certainly think Patrick meant that antismokers should face the same fire within us as they feel within themselves: they’re pulling a fast one, he seems to say, and I buy that argument. I also think it’s about time someone call them on it. Plenty of historical examples exist of rhetorical troop-rallying going perhaps a little too far – but the end far justifies the means on this one. Why? I’ll use myself as an example: until the latest round of antismoking laws which now prohibit smoking in my girlfriend’s apartment complex (as in, within individual apartments), I took “smoker’s rights” to be a humorous, cute hobby that those of us who were detached from the retail world could ignore. Now I’m thinking otherwise. I see this as a moral argument on their part – that smoking represents an affront to civilized living, and it’s obvious where the antismokers would like to see this end. I say grandiose comparisons are okay in the midst of this sort of tightening of screws, and appreciate columns such as this for making us all a little more fired up (pardon the pun).

  11. st Wednesday, May 20, 2009 at 12:26 pm #

    Raul – Yes, politicians abuse the appeasement reference all the time, in the same way as Benjy did, and it makes me nuts.

    Patrick – yes, anti-smoking idiots abuse language in pursuit of their aims. I thought that was one of the things we didn’t like about them.

    But let’s just drop it; I am dragging the discussion off-point. On the point of the post, I think you are right to call this out – often I have thought it would be good to just cut the cigarette smokers loose in this fight, but if you think about it, we are stuck with them, as the antismoking groups don’t and never will make a dstinction.

    Dirk – that “existing” language is unreal.

  12. Charlie Wednesday, May 20, 2009 at 12:40 pm #

    I am not so sure the undecided and sideline public are incapable of making “cigarette vs other” distinctions – I’d like to think they wouldn’t have a problem with cigar lounges and pipe shows. Unfortunately, there are never any public votes on these laws, so we’re stuck with being capital-S “Smokers” until someone remembers what a democracy is.

  13. Robert Wednesday, May 20, 2009 at 4:16 pm #

    st – I totally get your point. One of the biggest hurdles for the pro-smoking side of this will be to get the average Joe or Jane to understand, and sympathize with, our point of view. That’s going to be hard to do when using inflammatory rhetoric and comparing our foes in this legislative contest to some of the most vilified people in history.

    Using the wrong language is more than an unimportant tangent – it’s at the core of the issue. Like any legislative contest in any democracy, rhetoric is going to play a huge role in determining who wins people over. We’re falling behind and we need to start winning people over. If we use poorly worded arguments, we can end up sounding uninformed, hostile, juvenile, or just plain nuts.

    Instead, we should be finding language and rhetorical framings that make us – and our point – seem sound, well-reasoned, and scientifically-grounded. Comparing ourselves to historical examples of oppressed minorities when most of us are relatively well-to-do professionals in the mainstream is not going to work. We may FEEL that way (oppressed) and may even be that way in some sense, but that doesn’t mean others will see our analogy as accurate; the circumstances are too different. Comparing our foes to nazis or tyrants won’t be well-received either.

    Finally, inferring malicious intentions in our opposition probably won’t help our cause either. The reality is they probably think they are doing the right thing. They probably honestly believe they are interpreting the science correctly and “protecting” lives. I’ve known a few and I know they mean well even if they are uninformed. They’re wrong, they’re misunderstanding the little science that does exist, and they’re overreacting…but I don’t see a reason to doubt their sincerity or to infer that they are tyrannical lunatics hell-bent on destroying freedom. Talk like that won’t help our cause in the long-run.

  14. Nameshy Friday, April 16, 2010 at 3:35 pm #

    It is no longer a matter of a frog in a pot. The entire pond is on its way to being changed under a messiah monarchy.

  15. Pond Leaks Tuesday, November 27, 2012 at 7:00 am #

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