"History is determined more by angry minorities than by passive majorities."
-- George Will
Civil rights, voting rights, women's rights, and now smokers' rights prove one thing: We human beings love fighting for a cause. Any cause, no matter how many -- or how few -- join us in the fray.
Just give us a dress code we don't like, a storm water fee we're not going to pay, a flag (we say) we're willing to die for, or a rule we'd rather die than obey, and we'll call a talk show, write letters to the editor, and show up at a County Commission meeting for the first time in years.
Never mind getting revved up for PTO, an off-year election -- or, sometimes, voting at all -- or volunteering for clean-up duty on county roads and parks. Our "cause" invariably concerns some issue that affects what we want, think, or do, and oh, what tangled webs we fashion, when first we practice no compassion for anyone else's point of view.
Like 80 percent of the American public, I don't smoke. But that doesn't prevent me from having an opinion on the county's proposed smoking ban anymore than never having sought public office disqualifies me from voting for those who do.
Billed by both sides as a "rights issue," those vying to protect the rights of non-smokers to breathe clean air are pitted against the rights of business owners to decide what will or will not occur on their premises. The pro-banner reasons are well documented, while the other side warns: "Today smoking, tomorrow who knows what the government will make us do?"
If I were a debating judge grading the arguments of each side, I'd have to rule in favor of the pro-banners.
The "smokers' rights" people are entitled to their opinion and may, indeed, have some precedence on their side, but they just haven't thought their reasons through. My memory serves me well.
It was about 30 years -- and diets -- ago when I purchased a whole case of diet drinks -- and had to pour the contents down the drain because the sweetener Cyclamate had just been declared unsafe for human consumption. Actually, the evidence claimed it was unsafe for rats, but considering the amount of the deadly stuff I had on hand, I took the worst-case scenario approach and poured away.
Immediately, all those proprietors of privately owned establishments lost their "right" to sell products containing the banned substance. They may have retained the "right" to drink a truckload of the stuff themselves, but they could no longer sell it to me.
I grew up on a farm where our large animals were pastured and stalled, but our cats and dogs could roam free. One reason I no longer own a pet is that there are leash and pooper-scooper laws in suburban Columbia County -- which I heartily endorse but don't have the time or stomach to keep. If I did have such an animal I could stamp my feet and holler, "It's my dog!" all day and night, but I'd still have to obey the law because it's designed to protect the rights of my neighbors, say nothing of their shrubs and lawns.
Also, the cars I drove 40-50 years ago didn't have seat belts -- or signal lights -- but that doesn't mean I didn't adapt to their use when "the government" said I had to use them even when the car belonged to me. I also remember when the Columbia County delegation made its first sister-city visit to Poland in the fall of 1989. Even in the center of that beautiful city, furnaces and factories were belching such dark smoke we often couldn't distinguish day from twilight. After that experience we had a new appreciation for our "intrusive' government telling us what we could and could not spew into the air.
Which brings me back to smoking. (How about that segue?)
Contrary to the anti-banners' position, I'm not convinced of the "what next" theory. The government isn't going to tell us we can't serve soup or fries in our restaurants. Heads won't roll if we drive our cars more than 50,000 miles a year, and I don't foresee the "smoke police" knocking on our doors with a smoke-o-meter to measure our households for second-hand smoke.
But like regulations concerning car and factory emissions, foods or additives that have been taken off our shelve, and the effects of second-hand cigarette smoke already determined, how about the minority letting the system -- and their own health police -- do their jobs?
Who knows? Even their quality of life might improve.
(Barbara Seaborn is a local freelance writer. E-mail comments to email@example.com.)
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