Thursday, March 09, 2006

Jacob Sullum on Calabasas: Right on the Mark

In an article published yesterday on Reason Online, Jacob Sullum takes the Calabasas City Council to task for enacting an ordinance that goes far beyond the realm of public health and science-based tobacco control by banning smoking vitually everywhere in the city, including in every street, sidewalk, and parking lot, and does it partly in the name of protecting kids from seeing smokers in public.

The Calabasas City Council went so far as to prohibit smoking outside in the presence of a nonsmoker, even if the nonsmoker does not mind. So as Sullum points out, a smoker and a nonsmoking family member or friend can be walking along a deserted street at midnight and if the smoker lights up, he or she is automatically guilty of a crime. It is also a misdemeanor if the friend or relative is a smoker who just happens not to be smoking at the time.

And to add injury to insult, the friend or family member could actually be prosecuted under the law as being an accomplice to the crime if they did not protest. They could be prosecuted under the ordinance's allowing, aiding and abetting clause, which forbids them from knowingly permitting someone to smoke in an area that is under their de facto control.

Furthermore, their friend or relative could sue them for compensatory damages, or simply for statutory damages, court costs, and attorney fees.

Sullum calls the ordinance "moralistic intolerance masquerading as 'public health.'"

He points out that there is no scientific evidence backing up the need for the law's extreme provisions and that the supporters of the law aren't basing their support for it on health of nonsmokers in the first place:

"All this may seem a little extreme when you consider there's no evidence that outdoor smoking jeopardizes the health of bystanders. But that is not really what the ban's supporters have in mind when they talk about protecting 'public health.' Their aim is not just to eliminate secondhand smoke but to eliminate smoking. That's why the ordinance cites the health effects of smoking on smokers as a justification for the ban. And that's why the ban's official goals include 'reducing the potential for children to associate smoking and tobacco with a healthy lifestyle' and 'affirming and promoting the family-friendly atmosphere of the City's public places.'

The ban's backers see smoking as a shameful vice that must be kept out of sight, an indecent activity from which adults must shield children's eyes as well as their noses. The logic of forcing people to set a good example for the kids—which also would justify banning fat people and motorcyclists from public places—reduces adults to the level of children whenever they venture out of their homes."

The Rest of the Story

Yeah - what he said.

That's about all I can say about Sullum's article. His comments closely mirror those I have been making over the past few weeks since this law was initially considered and then approved (post #1; post #2; post #3; post #4; post #5).

Here's perhaps the most ridiculous fact about the law. If you are walking down a street and you see a smoker (within 20 feet), it is your legal obligation to report that smoker to authorities. If you conceal the fact that the individual broke the law, guess what? You yourself have just broken the law and committed a crime - a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 and a jail sentence of up to six months. You have allowed, aided, and abetted a crime.

This is pure lunacy!

Why else would the Calabasas City Council have included these provisions, which treat smoking outdoors as a misdemeanor - a crime - rather than simply as a civil violation, punishable simply by a fine? Why would Calabasas have included provisions that allow nonsmokers (or smokers for that matter) to sue a smoker for lighting up on an otherwise deserted street corner? Why would Calabasas want to include provisions that can throw a smoker in jail for smoking in a parking lot?

I think the answer is precisely what Sullum suggests: this is moralistic intolerance masquerading as public health.

It has no place in tobacco control, and anti-smoking groups should immediately and publicly speak out against this insanity.

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