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The Southern Avenger Debuts

Smoke Out: Smoking ban advocates use science to serve their politics

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It's been a month and counting since the City of Charleston's smoking ban went into effect and so far the sky hasn't fallen, Armageddon hasn't arrived, and nary a chicken has been seen roosting at any of the bars many Charlestonians call home. For the casual observer, the bars that were crowded before remain crowded, with the biggest difference being that the party has spilled out onto the sidewalk, where smokers can now share their habit with children and the elderly.

But as a mere patron and not a business owner, I don't feel qualified to judge whether the Charleston food and beverage industry is suffering due to the smoking ban. "Observation" is just one part of the Scientific Method we all learned in high school and my blurry, Saturday night barstool perspective certainly does not make me an expert, much less a scientist.

But smoking ban advocates have not been so humble. In addition to knowing what's best for private businesses, smoking ban advocates have claimed a monopoly on science ever since former Surgeon General Richard Carmona declared in 2006: "The debate is over (and) the science is clear. There is no risk-free level of secondhand smoke exposure."

Case closed, right? Not quite. Reason Magazine Editor Jacob Sullum writes, "Carmona is so intent on promoting smoking bans that he absurdly exaggerates the hazards of secondhand smoke. (Carmona's) insistence that there is 'no risk-free level' is an article of faith, not a scientific statement."

Or as scientist Dr. Elizabeth Whelan, president of the American Council on Science and Health says, "The Surgeon General's Report on the health consequences of environmental tobacco smoke needs (its) own warning label: 'Contains mix of facts, speculation, and downright hyperbole."

As a political appointee, one would think the Surgeon General's motives were at least questionable. Alleged experts in their own fields, former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and current Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, were appointed by the same president as Surgeon General Carmona. Lord knows, they've never been granted such immunity. But smoking ban advocates would squeal at the very notion of questioning the Surgeon General's report, no matter how suspect. They have their science and they're sticking to it.

If the Surgeon General's report is indeed more propaganda than professionalism, as some experts contend, then this would not be the first collusion between government and science attempting to dictate societal change. The 1936 cult classic film Reefer Madness and the lesser known Assassin of Youth were propaganda films designed to imply that marijuana use led to everything from juvenile delinquency to murder, rape, and suicide. Assassin of Youth was a phrase used by then-drug czar Harry J. Anslinger who sponsored the 1937 Marihuana Act, which eventually led to the criminalization of cannabis. Until 1973, the American Psychiatric Association designated homosexuality as a disorder. Many argue today that the designation was changed for political reasons, while others maintain that it existed for political reasons. Either way, to suggest that science is above politics is to ignore history.

Ironically, support for smoking bans remains very high among white, urban progressives. The same people who scream bloody murder over the suppression of marijuana and homosexuals now seem more than happy to suppress smokers and property owners, citing the "right to breathe clean air."

The same people who want to keep the government "out of people's bedrooms" now seem more than happy to support government invading people's businesses, citing the same "common good" argument that others use to protect kids from being exposed to "gateways drugs" like marijuana, or to protect "the institution of marriage" from homosexuals who would dare join in.

In the U.S. Constitution one cannot find the "right to breathe clean air," nor will you find smokers' rights, marijuana rights, health care rights, gay rights, animal rights, illegal alien rights, or any of the other rights that are invented daily. But you will find property rights. In fact, the Founding Fathers considered the right to own property the very basis of freedom.

When it comes to smoking bans, the truth is there are plenty of people who understandably don't like smoking. Recognizing the passion of this sizable and willing audience, smoking ban advocates have been able to transform popular prejudice into political victory using questionable facts and pick-and-choose science. If we were discussing any other issue — abortion, the drug war, gay marriage, you name it — this type of politicking would be considered demagoguery.

In Charleston, it's called "progress."

For almost a decade, the "Southern Avenger" Jack Hunter has been giving his opinion on politics, culture, and society on Charleston's airwaves. After joining State Senator Glenn McConnell in defending the Confederate flag in the City Paper's 1999 "Heritage or Hate?" issue, Hunter began a long-time radio career at 96 Wave and can now be found at his new home, WTMA talk radio (1250 AM). Born and raised in the Lowcountry, the self-described "reactionary" makes no apologies for being white, male, or Southern. A viewpoint, Hunter admits, that is entirely discredited by his unhealthy obsession with professional wrestling.

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