Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The Tobacco Ban: A Youth Worker's Perspective.

As I work in in youth services, I feel I should step in and say something about the whole smoking ban issue since my profession grants me moral superiority in such situations.

Matt Todd, as anyone without an ounce of good argument on their side typically does, resorts to emotion. Specifically:






















Watch him. He's a master.

Nothing I have suggested would infringe on anyone's right to own or smoke tobacco. What I was working towards is further strengthening existing laws that are intended to prevent children from purchasing tobacco and protect people from exposure to tobacco smoke.
This is important because we know that over 80% of adult smokers started as children or teenagers. So, if we are concerned about the fact that tobacco is the leading cause of premature death in Canada (nothing else comes even close), then the solution is to prevent children from becoming addicted in the first place.
The reality is that wherever smoking bans have been imposed, smoking rates dropped. That is an indisputable fact.
I know it may be hard for a healthy person to appreciate the potential impact of tobacco smoke. It might even seem silly, which I assume is why you ridicule the very idea in your post.
In the next paragraph, he throws in people with asthma and heart conditions for good measure....

What you might not fully appreciate is how harmful secondhand smoke can be to people with asthma, heart conditions, and children. As the science on the effects of tobacco grows, it becomes closer to impossible to accept that we should continue to feel guilty about inconveniencing the hapless nicotine addict.

Lets see those helpless saints again in a different order!
So, as you suggest that someone who is bothered by tobacco smoke should take it upon themselves to remove themselves from the area, I suggest to you that I value a person's right to be concerned with their health over a nicotine addict's right to get their fix wherever they so choose. Whose right to travel freely should take precedent, a person with asthma, children or a heart condition, or a nicotine addict?

Taking as a given the fact that non-smokers uncomfortable with tobacco usage are free to avoid it however they choose, we have now entered the arena of determining whose convenience and comfort is going to take legal precedent over another's.

There's an assumption behind this argument that we have a right to comfort at all times, in all situations. The problem is, you can't guarantee people basic human freedoms and also guarantee their comfort.

I am out with friends. They would like to go into Restaurant XYZ where the patrons smoke indoors. It is uncomfortable for me to tell my friends that I don't support establishments where the patrons are permitted to smoke indoors.

You know what else is uncomfortable for me? Being around Muslim women who wear the full burqa. I don't like seeing women as faceless, identityless, submissive beings. Yet I deplore legislation that tries to tell them they can't dress this way.

I'm also made uncomfortable by a lot of advertising. Skinny, sickly models with inhuman proportions create false impressions and distort the reality of what beauty is. They encourage beautiful, healthy women to feel sub par and incomplete. But you won't see me encouraging any legislation to regulate a model's weight/height.

I'm uncomfortable when misguided Christians stand on the corner and preach hell fire and the coming end of the world. Perhaps their motives are pure, I don't know, but they are presenting a distorted and disturbing picture of Christianity. But I won't be calling the police on them.
Sometimes when others exercise their rights to free speech or religion or numerous other basic freedoms, I am made uncomfortable, even angry. But I don't have a right to continual comfort. Or to not be exposed to ideas I don't agree with. Now, if someone dressed me in a burqa, forced me to lose twenty pounds and set me on a street corner with a tract in my hand, then we would have something to talk about.

I especially don't have a right to walk onto someone else's private property if they don't wish me there. But I DO have a right NOT to go onto someones property if going there makes me uncomfortable. You won't find me in any strip clubs or pornography stores. Or if I consider going there dangerous to my health (like chocolate stores.)

The only solution that guarantees the rights of all concerned is this: if you don't want to breath it, don't go there. It may make you uncomfortable to have to choose not to enter an establishment because you believe it will harm you in some way. If thats you, it may be time for you to get a backbone.

The remarkable thing about allowing everyone rights is that it forces you to stand up for what you believe in. Even if it means inconvenience or discomfort. When we make personal comfort and the security of our feelings an object of legal protection, what we are in effect asking for is legislation that will protect us from having to make uncomfortable stands.

We are asking for protection from the need to be courageous, to be principled in our individual actions and choices, and to do or say or choose the right thing regardless of it's popularity, or whether we may feel a flush of warmth in our faces when asking someone at the next table not to smoke around our children. We are also 'spared' the opportunity to develop moral courage, to act on principles, and set visible examples for our children or peers.

Now here's the funny part. Todd is not working to ban the owning or smoking of cigarettes. Just the buying of them. This is remarkably similar to Canadian law surrounding prostitution. Most citizens are unaware the buying and selling sexual services is perfectly legal in Canada. Truly! Look it up! Whats illegal is COMMUNICATING in a public place for the purpose of buying and selling sex.

Oh you can buy sex! Just don't communicate with the prostitute about it in a public place. Sure you can smoke cigarettes! You just can't buy them. Very similar logic. And we all know how well regulating prostitution in this manner has worked out.

If Todd's goal is to prevent people from being exposed to second hand smoke, then his proposed legislation doesn't even address the issue.

If his goal is to make it more difficult for minors to obtain cigarettes it also doesn't address the issue. Minors can't legally buy cigarettes anyway. Wherever they're getting them from its not from the convenience store. (And yes, I realize that some clerks may be violating this regulation. This is a case of simply enforcing a law thats already in effect, not adding a new one.) His solution is typically liberal. "What we need here is more laws! Bigger ones!"

You want some emotion? Well here it is. In 2003 I watch my grand mother (who raised me) die a horribly painful and prolonged death of emphysema caused by smoking a pack a day for fifty-four years. She began smoking at the age of sixteen. I work with a lot of kids who start smoking because their peers torment them and the rappers and gangsters who are their only role models do it as well. If you don't think this breaks my heart, you're dead wrong. But the solution here is not more legislation. Especially not legislation that infringes on peoples rights. Real answers to complex, human problems are never satisfied with quick-fix solutions. Real answers are deep, and challenging and usually take time. Like people spending more time at home and less at the office. Like standing up for your beliefs even if it means inconvenience and discomfort. Like parents modeling the choices they want their kids to make.

Please don't have children until you understand that.


-Nora

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