Thursday, June 15, 2006

Anti-Smoking Group Supports Law to Ban Smoking by Pregnant Women and Boasts of Invasion of Women's Privacy and Autonomy

It took only hours from the time I posted yesterday about the Arkansas proposal to ban smoking by pregnant women and urged anti-smoking groups to speak out against this idea for a prominent anti-smoking group to weigh in on the proposal.

Unfortunately, rather than "distancing themselves from this proposal as definitively and as quickly as possible," as I suggested would have been appropriate, this anti-smoking group supported the proposal and boasted about the degree of invasion of privacy and autonomy that such an intervention would represent.

Yesterday, Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) issued a press release supporting the proposed law and defending it against the argument that it represents a slippery slope leading to undue intrusion into the privacy and autonomy of citizens.

In the press release, ASH argued: "To the concerns -- often called the 'slippery slope' argument -- that such a law would inevitably lead to restrictions on many other activities by pregnant women, Banzhaf notes that legislators can and do draw lines. The ban on TV advertising for cigarettes has not spread to other products, handguns -- but not shotguns -- are banned in certain situations, knives of one length but not another are often illegal, drinking is legal at age 21 but not at age 20, etc."

"To those who argue that a ban on smoking by pregnant women would constitute an invasion of her constitutional right of privacy, Banzhaf notes that her so-called privacy rights are inextricably bound up with the right of the child not to be subjected to dangerous unnecessary health risks, if not death itself."

ASH seemed to boast about the degree of intrusion into individual privacy and autonomy that it is supporting, using the term "expanding [smoking bans] into wombs" to describe the latest proposal: "law professor John Banzhaf, who has successfully led a movement which has spread smoking bans outdoors, into private homes (in custody cases and where foster children live), into apartments (when neighbors complain), and into cars (when children are present), says expanding it into wombs would be constitutional."

The Rest of the Story

One of the commenters on my earlier post quipped, in response to my recommendation that anti-smoking groups immediately condemn this proposal: "Surely you jest. They will jump on this bandwagon like white on rice. Anything that will give them an edge, and the fact that they didn't say it first will just give them a smug attitude about it 'having to be true,' since they didn't say it first, so it must be true, also. They don't care if it's true or not, or even ethically and morally wrong, as long as it gets them what they want, which is the outright elimination of the smoker, not just smoking." (you told me so, Lynda!)

It only took a few hours, but ASH, true to apparent form, has come out in support of this intrusive proposal, rather than in opposition to it.

Once again, I think the anti-smoking movement is going too far in its apparent zeal to punish smokers, rather than to help them.

You don't see ASH suggesting that we ban alcohol use by pregnant women, even though the adverse effects of alcohol use during pregnancy are well-documented. You don't see ASH arguing that we should ban unprotected sex by pregnant women. You won't hear ASH calling for a ban on pregnant women changing cat litter. And ASH is not calling on a ban on the consumption of tuna (which may contain high amounts of mercury, damaging to the fetus) by pregnant women.

Clearly, ASH is not motivated by some sort of primary concern for maternal and child health. Instead, they are motivated, I think, primarily by a hatred of smokers and a desire to punish them and to control them in the name of protecting the public's health. It is paternalism of a grand form.

I would hasten to note that the same argument used by ASH to defend this proposed law against the argument that it intrudes into the privacy rights of women could just as easily be used to outlaw abortion, or to argue that abortion bans are constitutional.

I thought anti-smoking groups were going too far when they took the battle for smoke-free air from the workplace into the great outdoors. Then I thought they were going way too far when they took the battle back out of the outdoors and into the private home and car. But now they are simply out of control - taking the battle directly into the womb, as they themselves boast.

This is getting scary. Even for someone who has spent 21 years arguing in support of government intrusion into the privacy and autonomy of private business owners in order to protect people from what he believes is a bona fide occupational health hazard.

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