So why, after months of staff work and a prolonged dialogue with many activists, did the Ventura City Council choose to “foster a non smoking culture,” but not to adopt an outright ban on smoking at our parks and beaches?
As with many discussions in the public policy arena, the dialogue on this question is laden with emotional hyperbole and non-sequitur repartee, designed primarily to score a point, not necessarily make one.
The question is not whether smoking is bad for people, nor even whether second-hand smoke is bad. The link between smoking and cancer is well established, even if the exact process of causality is not. It follows without a great deal of effort that, if primary smoke is carcinogenic, second-hand smoke is.
The fact is simply that we have been offered no credible scientific studies (disregard the “junk science" and studies of the secondary literature — which is primarily opinion and advocacy) — none so far that demonstrate a verifiable correlation, much less causality, between any significant disease etiology and second-hand smoke in an “open-air” environment. Certainly none that I am aware of prove empirically that a specific level of particulate concentration in an “open-air” environment is of a magnitude to be consistently problematic to our health. (Assertions of belief are not science, even if made by scientists.) The result is that the advocates on this issue are asking government to intervene to restrict the rights of a significant number of citizens on the theory that someone (other than smokers themselves) might get hurt by their behavior.
They don’t present evidence, just a chain of reasoning, some of which would hardly pass a logic test. To the extent that they present "research," their research methodology is often grievously flawed.
The reality is that we accept environmental danger every day as a fact of life. We know, for instance, that substances like arsenic or lead or mercury are poisons, but we tolerate their presence in our water and the air we breathe. Now, in truth, we don’t have much choice. We could, I guess, ban all fossil fuel vehicles and all fossil fuel electric plants, etc., and maybe get rid of a lot of the problem, but, rather than impose such inconvenience on ourselves, we generally tolerate the existence of some level of such poisons in our environment. We focus only on concentrations that are proven problematic and on finding ways to limit such concentrations.
It is the science that says that a specific concentrate level is directly associated with disease and that the said, specific level is frequently found in parks and beaches that’s needed before we consider limiting a substantial number of citizens’ use of such public amenities, for which they, too, pay equal taxes.
I don’t think government’s job is to be Everyman’s nanny.
We don’t deprive people of personal freedom or the right to participate in the enjoyment of public amenities because they choose to drive SUV’s or carelessly leave the lights on all over the house, or because they choose to watch brain-numbing TV all day long rather than get some exercise, or because they get obese eating fast food.
Government has more important things to do and public resources are too limited to try to police every possible public nuisance, much less every societal idiocy. The only legitimate reason to limit one individual’s freedom is that exercising it clearly and demonstrably harms others or limits another’s equally legitimate freedom. Until that clear and demonstrative link can be established, I have a problem.
As for the litter issues, we already have anti-litter laws. We also already have laws to prevent smoking in children’s play areas.
On the role model argument, do we really want government defining our children’s role models? If government is going to do that, then it should ban at least a substantial portion of our population from ever bearing children. That would have a far superior effect on preventing contact with poor role models in our society than banning smoking in parks ever will.
Isn’t it a bit bizarre that we spend innumerable city resources coddling special interest advocates and nurturing extended public debate over an issue like this while, as a community, we can’t seem to mobilize the will to deal with the homelessness and poverty literally threatening the lives of so many in our city? No wonder people think politicians are jerks and government isn’t worth the taxes paid to support it. When I look at Sacramento and Washington, I see the same stuff magnified to the billions of dollars.
When will the masses say enough? It can only be a matter of time before they finally decide to drive Dr. Frankenstein’s monster from the village. Government intervention is not the best solution to every apparent problem.