Some scoundrels in St. Joe, Missouri, are trying again to ban smoking at the places where they go for their Sunday morning brunch. The opposition swigs their beer and pops peanuts between puffs on their favorite means of getting their regular nicotine hit. Some prefer cigarettes, some a cigar, personally – I favor a pipe. The implication of this introduction suggests suggests that the ‘haves’ (those who partake of Sunday Morning Brunch) favor the ban, and the ‘have-nots’ (beer drinkers) oppose the ban. There is some truth to those stereotypes – but neither of these disparate groups totally define the cause.
When the Romans first built their aqueducts there were a couple of Roman Rednecks who admired the ingenuity but protested that just because there was water to flush away human waste does not mean that they have to abide – they can relieve themselves where ever they want. Rome often heard the rants of the public, “I shall take a dump wherever I choose. If someone does not want to go to the restaurant where indiscriminate dumping is permitted then they can go somewhere else.”
As a representative Republic, with Senators elected by the masses, Rome was in a tizzy. The Senators, regular customers of the local bathhouses, where flushed waste was preferred, hoped to bring to the general public their same rich rewards of avoiding the stench of second hand methane. The Roman Rednecks protested, “If you do not favor my methane then go somewhere else.”
The Roman Senate was the first in history to coin the phrase, “Never take a dump where you eat”. The Roman Rednecks responded by inventing a symbol of protest often observed in modern culture – they mooned the Senators.
Eventually every civilized community must address the issue of public health. To the Roman Rednecks, taking a dump was a very natural process of the animal kingdom. The idea of a public house for dumping seemed quite gauche. A friend of mine grew up on a farm outside of Maysville, Missouri. In the 1950’s his mother proposed adding an indoor restroom facility. The father was up-in-arms. He imagined an outhouse attached to his home. Thus the Roman Redneck predictions came true: If we allow public toilets then next thing you know they will want to put them in our houses.
A couple of days ago, at the Sunday Brunch, people were heard exclaiming, “Really, they smoke in their house? Around their children? How gauche?” The Rednecks exclaimed, “We said gauche first!”
My nephew, Josh Clark, wrote a letter to the editor the other day opposing the smoking ban. Josh has never smoked. He is very good writer. He argued the case for liberty. The argument is sound in a simple world of agrarian life. Actually, the issue of liberty should always be a factor in any government regulation. Historically, as people become more urbanized, individual liberties take a back seat. Public health ultimately drives the decision process – what is best for the most sort of thing. In the case of nicotine, the knowledge of the damage done to humans has become insurmountable. Smoke is bad for our health. Consistent daily exposure to smoke is bad for our long term health. Each of us, in an urban world, has a right to expect that just being present in our community should not threaten our health. Liberty, in this case, is freedom from a threat to our health.
Sadly, the issue of public health loses some authority when compromises are made – like allowing smoking in the local casino. Economics outweighs public health. But that is the case with coal and fossil fuels in general. There is a lesson for all to remember. If a person votes for the smoking ban that does not mean they are opposed to liberty. And conversely, if a person votes against the ban that does not mean they are opposed to public health.
My opinion? Liberty is the issue. Freedom from illness because of the behavior of others, and the least possible government regulations to accomplish that goal.