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Our liberties Or Lack Thereof:

September 12, 2008

[A reprint; apparently a few S.C. municipalities; our elected folks, missed this op-ed or missed the main idea]

Man is not free unless government is limited… As government expands, liberty contracts. – Ronald Reagan

May 6, 2007

By JEFFREY SEWELL, For the Herald-Journal

Two and a quarter centuries ago on Sullivan’s Island, a small band of American patriots hunkered down in a crude fort against a ferocious British naval bombardment. Saved from the impact of hundreds of screaming shells by the spongy absorbency of our now legendary Palmetto trees, Col. William Moultrie’s resilient Colonials eventually repulsed the British fleet and scored one of the first decisive victories of the American Revolution.

History, it would seem, is not without a sense of irony. Sullivan’s Island is once again a key battleground in the fight for American liberty – only this time, the threat comes from within.

Sullivan’s Island has become the first municipality in South Carolina to pass an all-inclusive indoor smoking ban, unleashing a politically correct, anti-smoking jihad that has cities and counties all across our state lining up to follow suit.

It’s becoming all too clear that the anti-smoking zealots won’t stop until cigarettes are completely illegal – anytime, anyplace and for anyone.

But while demonizing a convenient enemy at the expense of individual liberties and market freedoms may be politically expedient, it is decidedly un-American, not to mention detrimental to our state’s bottom line.

According to the Orwellian-sounding “Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System” of the Centers for Disease Control, smokers represent 26 percent of South Carolina’s population, and according to the state Department of Revenue, they annually pay $171 million in taxes and fees on top of the taxes and fees everyone else pays.

Granted, as the dangers of secondhand smoke have become more widely known, this added contribution to the public treasury is justified. Also, few would argue that society has inherited an obligation to protect the individual liberties of those who choose not to smoke. Public buildings, for example, clearly fall into this category, as no one should be forced to breathe secondhand smoke simply because government required him or her to appear at jury duty or stand in line at the DMV.

But outlawing smoking in privately owned restaurants – and especially in privately owned bars – fails to strike a fair balance in this question of competing liberties.

Other than private residences, privately owned bars are generally acknowledged as the last refuge in our society for smokers. In most cases, bars cater specifically to smokers and derive a majority of their taxable income from smokers’ patronage.

That’s why a ban on smoking in privately owned bars represents a clear line of demarcation – a tipping point where one side’s attempt to protect liberty begins to infringe on the liberties of thousands of patrons who do smoke, to say nothing of bar owners who are trying to make a decent living for themselves and their families by fulfilling a legitimate marketplace need. What do we honestly expect will happen to these businesses?

Take California, for example, where anti-smoking advocates like to trumpet the fact that tax receipts from bars and restaurants increased by 4 percent after that state’s smoking ban went into effect. What they neglect to point out, however, is that retail sales in California increased by 8 percent over the same time period – meaning that the bar and restaurant industry grew at half the rate of the rest of the economy.

Even more telling is the chilling effect the ban has had on the creation of new businesses in California. According to the California State Board of Equalization, permits for restaurants and bars have decreased by 3.3 percent since the ban took effect (compared to a 12.7 percent increase in fast-food permits).

But while the adverse economic impact of broad smoking bans cannot be dismissed (particularly in a state like South Carolina that relies on small businesses to create jobs and revenue); it is our society’s seemingly inexorable drift away from its founding principles that is most worrisome.

“The true danger comes when liberty is nibbled away for expedients, and by parts,” Edmund Burke once wrote.

As our state Legislature and court system seek to re-establish a fair balance of liberties in this ongoing debate, both institutions would be wise to heed this warning.

Jeffrey Sewell is the principal consultant of Sewell Consultancy, a political consulting firm in Lexington County. He also is co-owner of http://www.SChotline.com

###

Side note: I want to personally thank Will Folks for helping put my thoughts in order and communicate the main idea.  His work on our most senior politico commentary, and opines is well established yet unacknowledged to the degree deserved.

Editor, SCHotline.com

~Jeffrey Sewell

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. September 12, 2008 12:43 PM

    I couldn’t agree more! Excellent article!

  2. September 13, 2008 5:04 AM

    Government Power is the real health hazard

    The bandwagon of local smoking bans now steamrolling across the nation –
    from New York City to San Antonio – has nothing to do with protecting people
    from the supposed threat of “second-hand” smoke.

    Indeed, the bans themselves are symptoms of a far more grievous threat; a
    cancer that has been spreading for decades and has now metastasized
    throughout the body politic, spreading even to the tiniest organs of local
    government. This cancer is the only real hazard involved – the cancer of
    unlimited government power.

    The issue is not whether second-hand smoke is a real danger or a phantom
    menace, as a study published recently in the British Medical Journal
    indicates. The issue is: if it were harmful, what would be the proper
    reaction? Should anti-tobacco activists satisfy themselves with educating
    people about the potential danger and allowing them to make
    their own decisions, or should they seize the power of government and force
    people to make the “right” decision?

    Supporters of local tobacco bans have made their choice. Rather than
    attempting to protect people from an unwanted intrusion on their health, the
    tobacco bans are the unwanted intrusion.

    Loudly billed as measures that only affect “public places,” they have
    actually targeted private places: restaurants, bars, nightclubs, shops, and
    offices – places whose owners are free to set anti-smoking rules or whose
    customers are free to go elsewhere if they don’t like the smoke. Some local
    bans even harass smokers in places where their effect on others is obviously
    negligible, such as outdoor public parks.

    The decision to smoke, or to avoid “second-hand” smoke, is a question to be
    answered by each individual based on his own values and his own assessment
    of the risks. This is the same kind of decision free people make regarding
    every aspect of their lives: how much to spend or invest, whom to befriend
    or sleep with, whether to go to college or get a job, whether to get married
    or divorced, and so on.

    All of these decisions involve risks; some have demonstrably harmful
    consequences; most are controversial and invite disapproval from the
    neighbors. But the individual must be free to make these decisions. He must
    be free, because his life belongs to him, not to his neighbors, and only his
    own judgment can guide him through it.

    Yet when it comes to smoking, this freedom is under attack. Cigarette
    smokers are a numerical minority, practicing a habit considered annoying and
    unpleasant to the majority. So the majority has simply commandeered the
    power of government and used it to dictate their behavior.

    That is why these bans are far more threatening than the prospect of
    inhaling a few stray whiffs of tobacco while waiting for a table at your
    favorite restaurant. The anti-tobacco crusaders point in exaggerated alarm
    at those wisps of smoke while they unleash the systematic and unlimited
    intrusion of government into our lives.

    The tobacco bans are just part of one prong of this assault. Traditionally,
    the political Right has attempted to override the individual’s judgment on
    spiritual matters: outlawing certain sexual practices, trying to ban sex and
    violence in entertainment, discouraging divorce.

    While the political Left is nominally opposed to this trend – denouncing
    attempts to “legislate morality” and crusading for the toleration of
    “alternative lifestyles,” – they seek to override the individual’s judgment
    on material matters: imposing controls on business and profit-making,
    regulating advertising and campaign finance, and now legislating healthy
    behavior.

    But the difference is only one of emphasis; the underlying premise is still
    anti-freedom and anti-individual-judgment. The tobacco bans bulldoze all the
    barriers to intrusive regulation, establishing the precedent that the rights
    of the individual can be violated whenever the local city council decides
    that the “public good” demands it.

    Ayn Rand described the effect of this two-pronged assault on liberty: “The
    conservatives see man as a body freely roaming the earth, building sand
    piles or factories–with an electronic computer inside his skull, controlled
    from Washington.

    The liberals see man as a soul free-wheeling to the farthest reaches of the
    universe but wearing chains from nose to toes when he crosses the street to
    buy a loaf of bread,” or, today, when he crosses the street to buy a
    cigarette.

    It doesn’t take a new statistical study to show that such an attack on
    freedom is inimical to human life. No crusade to purge our air of any whiff
    of tobacco smoke can take precedence over a much more important human
    requirement: the need for the unbreached protection of individual rights.

    Thomas Laprade
    Thunder Bay, Ont.

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