Thursday, August 24, 2006

San Francisco Chronicle Editorial Calls Out Fanaticism of Anti-Smoking Movement; Backlash May Be Starting

An editorial published yesterday in the San Francisco Chronicle lashes out at the anti-smoking movement, calling out its fanaticism and suggesting that we are going too far by promoting bans on smoking in wide open outdoor public places and in private cars.

The editorial states: "Here is a short list of the places Bay Area smokers have recently been declared persona non grata: Parks. Bus stops. Public squares. Train stations. Gardens. Cable-car stops. Playing fields. Their own backyards. Proposed laws would include banning smokers from their own cars if minors are present. So, for the privilege of hunkering down in a dark alley or, lighting the Weber grill to distract neighbors from the whiff of nicotine, Bay Area smokers continue to exercise the perfectly legal right to smoke. ...

We don't approve of smoking. ... But now that smokers have found themselves decidedly marginalized in California culture, sanctimonious non-smokers are attacking them with a vengeance verging on obsession. ... Does Assemblyman Paul Koretz, D-West Hollywood, really believe that the CHP has nothing better to do than hunt for smoking drivers with children in the backseat? Do the rest of us really want the societal headaches that come with this sort of lifestyle micromanagement? We don't. Enough of the nanny state. Leave these silly rules alone -- and leave the smokers alone with their nasty habit."

The Rest of the Story

The San Francisco Chronicle is not exactly a conservative newspaper. It has generally been supportive of anti-smoking measures over the years. The fact that it now chooses to lash out at the anti-smoking movement is, in my opinion, a sign that the backlash I predicted would happen has indeed begun.

In a way, this is actually encouraging news to me. Because it shows that while the anti-smoking movement seems to know no limits and to have no bounds of reason, perspective, science, or ethics, the public and the media do recognize some limits and may be willing to call the movement on at least some of them.

Here, the Chronicle makes note of the fact that anti-smoking groups in California do not seem to know when to stop. Instead of stopping at the prohibition of smoking in workplaces and outdoor places where nonsmokers cannot avoid secondhand smoke exposure, these groups have pushed for banning smoking in virtually all outdoor places (see my posts on the anti-smoking ordinance in Calabasas) and are now pushing for banning smoking in cars when children are present.

It's one thing when groups with libertarian leanings call the policies your movement is supporting an example of the nanny state, but when the San Francisco Chronicle uses this rhetoric, it's time for pause about whether maybe you are going too far.

To get some sense of the degree to which the Chronicle has, in the past, supported the anti-smoking agenda, remember that it came out in support of the whole SmokeFreeMovies initiative in 2002, writing that "Hollywood should not be sending a message that smoking is a glamorous habit that won't harm people's health."

The Chronicle is a strong supporter of public health in general; this May 2002 editorial demonstrates the paper's perspective on public health intervention.

Clearly, we're not talking about a paper that opposes rather intrusive anti-smoking measures or other public health interventions.

I do think that the backlash is beginning. Unfortunately, the tobacco control groups failed to listen when the fanaticism was called to their attention. They didn't want to hear about it and so they silenced me. They simply didn't want to hear about it. Now I'm afraid it may be too late. The movement is out of control and the consequences are going to gradually unfold.

This is just the beginning.

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