Sometimes, we really don’t have our heads screwed on straight:
Jackie Brooks has smoked for a half-century and figures she consumes a pack a day inside her Auburn apartment.
The 74-year-old doesn’t want to quit and says she has a right to smoke in her own home.
Not anymore. The King County Housing Authority is banning smoking in all units at Plaza 17, the 70-unit apartment complex where Brooks has lived for 14 years.
Back when I was on the losing end of the I-901 fight, I at least had some acknowledgement that there were some legitimate points to be made for restricting smoking in public. Not so much because it’s cancerous, but because of its more immediate health effects. People who have asthma or some other respiratory problem shouldn’t have to be surrounded by cigarette smoke against their wishes when the health effects are clear and undeniable. Banning this activity in enclosed public places is just common sense. It obviously gets murkier when you’re talking about restaurants and bars as these are places that people can essentially choose not to go to, and I didn’t think it was the place for the state to tell business owners what environment they should provide. The one counter-argument that I found somewhat compelling was that certain classes of workers (servers, musicians) should be protected by the state, but did that require a ban which didn’t even allow for local municipalities to license certain places as exceptions? I still don’t think so.
But those are separate arguments from this one. Banning smoking in private residences just goes way too far.
The reality behind a lot of these bans is that they really are attempts to enforce a rigid public health morality. I’ve heard enough interesting propaganda on the effects of currently illegal drugs to be very skeptical of the current Surgeon General when he says that there’s no risk-free level of second-hand smoke (which is cited by the Times article as the KCHA’s reasoning for the ban). That’s silly. Obviously, there’s varying risk relative to exposure and below a certain level of exposure, you’re not at risk.
We see the same thing with the reports of marijuana smoke having more toxins and carcinogens than tobacco, but studies meant to demonstrate an actual link between marijuana smoking and lung cancer find no correlation. This is because, as Jacob Sullum writes, the dose makes the poison. Just being able to smell cigarette smoke through an open window is obviously not at a dangerous level. Is it annoying? Perhaps. But you’re not gonna get cancer from it and it’s not going to trigger any other health problems. The end of the article makes it fairly obvious what’s driving this:
Alice Bruce, 71, Brooks’ neighbor across the hall for a dozen years, has heart problems and is glad the authority is banning smoking in her building. She believes years of exposure to secondhand smoke from family members contributed to her cardiac arrest more than a decade ago, and she’s still concerned about secondhand smoke.
“I’ll be sorry to see her go,” Bruce said of her neighbor. “I think the world of Jackie. I still do. I just don’t agree with her smoking because of the experiences I had with my own family and smoking.”
I’m in no position to know whether Bruce is correct in her belief that second-hand smoke has led to her health problems, but even by her own words, that’s not the reason she supports the ban. She “just [doesn’t] agree with her smoking”. It has nothing to do with her own health. Someone smoking in the apartment across the hall is obviously not directly affecting her. This is a case where people are successfully goading a government agency to impose a particular public health morality. And even though forcing these old smokers out of their homes may be popular, it’s still the wrong thing to do.