California lawmakers are considering a proposal that would ban tobacco and e-cigarette use at government parks and beaches throughout the state.
Senate Bill 1333 is under consideration by the California State Assembly Committee on Water, Parks, and Wildlife. SB 1333’s sponsor, state Sen. Marty Block (D-San Diego), told media he offered the bill to protect the state’s forests from wildfires.
Under the bill, people caught using tobacco or e-cigarettes in government parks or beaches would be fined up to $250.
Banning ‘Minority Lifestyle Choices’
Aeon Skoble, a professor of philosophy at Bridgewater State University, says the bill does not address a health or environmental issue, but instead is a form of institutionalized discrimination against unpopular lifestyle choices.
“Since e-cigarettes are not on fire, it’s hard to see how they represent a fire hazard, and since their off-product is water vapor, it’s hard to see how there’s a ‘harm-to-others’ justification for the ban,” Skoble said. “What little rationale there is for public smoking bans doesn’t apply to vaping. This lays bare the extent to which this is really a case of the majority discriminating against minority lifestyle choices.”
Skoble says the government should have to justify any decision to infringe on people’s rights.
“In my view, the state has to have an extremely serious reason for infringing individual freedom,” Skoble said. “Indoor smoking bans in public buildings might be justified by the possible harms to others of secondhand smoke, but this wouldn’t apply to vaping, which doesn’t produce secondhand smoke.”
Public Health or Power Grab?
William L. Anderson, an economics professor at Frostburg State University, says governments often use “public health” to justify power grabs.
“Look, I don’t like smoking and don’t like to be around it, but as I see it, we are looking at property rights, not government-inspired public health issues,” Anderson said. “There is too much mischief in so-called ‘public health.'”
Attack on Individual Rights
Anderson says lawmakers have a long tradition of attacking individual rights.
“Don’t forget that the progressives of a century ago, beginning with [President] Woodrow Wilson, believed that individual rights were a threat to the cohesion of a nation and a threat to a good society,” Anderson said. “At its heart, the argument regarding smoking is one of individual rights. Yes, we can say that your right to smoke ends where I am, since you are imposing an external cost on me, but that is something that can be dealt with at a level somewhere less intense than what we see today.
“I think that the whole public health approach is collectivist, and after a while, we see that it becomes an excuse to empower abusive government,” Anderson said.
Leo Pusateri ([email protected]) writes from St. Cloud, Minnesota.