Anti-Smoking Facists Go Too Far

August 6, 1998

By David Trumbull


As City Council contemplates ever more extreme anti-smoking measures to impose on Cambridge restaurants, my thoughts go back to an incident shortly after the last attempt by our beneficent betters to regulate our health and habits and to stamp out the noxious weed. That I was told to extinguish my cigarette was no surprise--after all, I had followed the debate over the then new tobacco ordinance and knew that Cambridge eateries were subject to strict regulations. That I was told to extinguish my cigarette while a couple of tables away a group passed around what was, evidently, a marijuana joint was a surprise. But then I remembered that, in the 1995 debate, the phrase used was "tobacco" ordinance, not "smoking" ordinance. An aberation surely, but one that makes sense in the broader context of our one-sided debate on non-smoking policy.

The anti-tobacco movement of the late twentieth century is a moral crusade much like the prohibition in the early twentieth century. And just as the "dry" agitators of that era, today's reformers cite concerns for children, public health generally, and the economic cost of the filthy habit as reasons to abridge other people's freedom. This spring the World Health Organization released the results of the biggest ever study of secondhand smoke. The study results are constant with the fact there is no additional risk of lung cancer from secondhand smoke. Last month a federal judge threw out the EPA's 1993 report on the dangers of secondhand smoke--the very report that is the basis for much of the antismoking hysteria--declaring that the agency used improper methods to make the outcome agree with their predetermined position that second hand smoke is dangerous.

Ultimately, science-based arguments about the dangers of secondhand smoke are irrelevant. Although the anti-smoking crusaders' claims are couched in the language of public health, their motivation is more akin to that of religious missionaries. They oppose smoking because it stinketh in the nostrils of the lord. As they are right in their cause, they are right in imposing it on others.

From their morally superior position, our City Councilors presume to tell us how to live. "Parks are places where people are supposed to be getting their mind healthy and their body healthy," said Tim Toomey, defending his ban on smoking in the city's parks. Am I then violating some vague intention of the city ordinances if I go to a park not to improve my mind or body but to eat a fattening, unhealthful ham sandwich? What next, before and after EKG test or psychiatric examinations for people using the parks? After all, if improving health of body or mind is the only approved use of the parks then we need a method of enforcement of that use.

The anti-smoking crowd denies choices. They know that, left to themselves, too many free citizens will make the wrong choices--at least wrong from the view of the controllers. Published reports indicate that nearly half of the city's restaurants have chosen to be 100% non-smoking. The others then have made the wrong choice and must be made to conform. That there is a sizeable smoker population that patronizes the remaining businesses is, to the controllers, merely evidence that more controls are needed.

Councilor Born may get her wish and dine at the Miracle of Science restaurant in a smoke-fee environment, as she expressed in last week's Chronicle. But will it still be the same eatery once the smoking patrons have been evicted. The Phoenix coffee house in Central Square withstood vigorous competition from coffeehouse chains only to be forced to close its doors when neighbors demanded that the Phoenix, the only Central Square coffee house to allow smoking, take the pledge. Another victory for the controllers, another defeat for free citizens.


Lee Street resident David Trumbull is Chairman of the Cambridge Republican City Committee