Wednesday, January 10, 2007

New Anti-Smoking Ordinance in Bangor, Maine Outlaws Smoking In Cars

If there was ever a reason for us in Anchorage to vote to get rid of our anti-smoking ordinance in April, the city of Bangor, Maine, has just handed us one on a silver platter. The gentleman pictured at left would feel right at home in Bangor right now. On Monday, January 8th, 2007, Bangor became the first city in Maine, and perhaps in the nation, to ban adults from smoking in any motor vehicle when children are present. The ban, approved by the City Council by a 6-3 vote, takes effect 10 days after passage.

The measure prohibits any driver or passenger from lighting up a cigarette or other smoking material in a motor vehicle if anyone under age 18 is in the vehicle. Violators of the new city ordinance can be fined $50. The law applies to any motor vehicle on any public road within the city limits. It will be considered a primary offense, meaning police can stop a vehicle carrying children if smoking is observed, rather than a secondary offense, which would require police to ignore it unless they observed another primary offense (such as speeding, reckless driving, etc.).

Councilor Patricia Blanchette, a smoker herself, who authored the amendment changing the ordinance to a primary offense, spoke forcefully against passing a lackluster measure that might lack enforceability or "teeth." "A secondary offense is not worth the paper it's written on," she told fellow council members. People who smoke with a child present in the confined space of a car or truck might as well be deliberately trying to kill that child", she said. "Let's step up to the plate and lead; our children are worth the fight," she said.

The usual parade of medical professionals and other sob sisters showed up to speak out in favor of the ordinance. Pediatric dentist Jonathan Shenkin, a primary drafter of the proposal, told the council that measures to ban smoking in restaurants, bars and workplaces protect adults from unwanted exposure to secondhand smoke, but that children are not protected by these laws. He cited a recent study from the Harvard School of Public Health and report from the office of the U.S. Surgeon General showing that children are now at the highest risk of health complications from exposure to second-hand smoke and that passenger vehicles are a significant source of this exposure, and further argued that the city's leadership on this issue would encourage other municipalities, and perhaps the Maine Legislature, to adopt similar measures.

Pediatrician Robert Holmberg chimed in, claiming that "incontrovertible" evidence shows that exposure to second-hand smoke causes medical disorders in children, including asthma, bronchitis, ear infections and heart disease. "Children are the most in need of the protection by public policy, because they can't protect themselves," he said. Holmberg told the council the cost of providing health care to children exposed to secondhand smoke is "astronomical."

Other supporters included representatives from the Bangor Region Chamber of Commerce and the Fusion Bangor development group, who argued that the ordinance would demonstrate the city's dedication to children, families and a healthy work force.

Shawn Yardley of the city's Department of Health and Welfare said the ordinance would help attract state, federal and private foundation grant dollars to promote public health initiatives. [Ed. Note: Any chance we could use those dollars for more important purposes, such as roads, schools, and libraries instead of keeping expensive and useless propaganda mills in business?]
Some courageous citizens spoke out against the measure. Aaron Prill of Bangor said the ordinance was a "feel-good option" that was not intended to protect children but to "moralize" against smokers. He asserted that most smokers have enough common sense not to smoke around children. [Ed. Note: WTF? He actually suggested that parents are more competent to raise their kids than the state? Why, that's heresy! Throw that man in jail forthwith! He's a Second-Hand Smoke Denier! Put him in the same cell as Ernst Zuendel. Oy, vey! Oy ze hate!LOL]

Children are exposed to more smoke in their homes than in cars, said Eugene Savoy of Davis Road in Bangor. His wife, Denise Savoy, said the council should allow residents to vote on the measure.

Council members debated at length before taking the final vote. Councilor Susan Hawes, the most outspoken opponent, said police should devote their energies to more important issues, and that there's already too much government intervention in residents' lives.

Dr. Michael Siegel, a conspicuous and eloquent opponent of these anti-smoking ordinances, had this to say on his blog:

This is precisely why this ordinance is so dangerous. Once we as a society decide that we are willing to invade the privacy of personal space (homes and cars) and interfere with parental autonomy in decision-making merely in order to address behaviors that increase the risk of illness, we have removed the last barrier from the complete intrusion of the government into all aspects of our personal lives. There is hardly anything that we do, or a decision that we make, that does not in some way affect our health risks. Every aspect of our behavior, and every decision we make, could (and should) be subject to government regulation once we break down this barrier of invading privacy and removing autonomy regarding behaviors that merely affect health risks.

On this smoking policy issue, I agree with the opponents to the ordinance. This is largely a feel-good measure. It does little to protect the health of Bangor's children. The only smoking ban that would actually reduce the incidence of secondhand smoke-related illness among the children of Bangor is a ban on smoking in the home.

I do think that this is largely an effort to moralize against smokers. I can think of no other parental behavior that puts children at a small increased risk for illness that the Bangor City Council has banned. Why single out smoking in cars? It does make you think that this is largely an effort to simply send a message to smokers. But why not send a message to parents who feed their kids fat-laden french fries every day? Or parents who expose their kids to hours upon hours of secondhand smoke in the home, for that matter?

I also agree that the Bangor police department has more important things to do than pull cars over because someone is smoking. The upshot of Bangor's new policy is that smokers with kids are going to become fearful of being seen smoking in public. Instead of risking public shame and humiliation, they are going to confine their smoking to the privacy of their own homes - and that truly is going to represent a health risk for children. In fact, this measure could well make the problem of childhood exposure to secondhand smoke worse rather than better

Analysis: This is exactly why the Alaska Libertarian Party and Stomp The Ban teamed up to successfully get over 7,000 signatures on a petition to put an initiative on the Anchorage Municipal Election Ballot in April which, if approved by the voters, would overturn the current anti-smoking ordinance in Anchorage. They correctly surmised that these health and behavioral fascists would never stop - once they got one restriction on the books, they'd go for more.

And this will indeed happen here as long as we have people like Dan "I Hate Smokers" Coffey and Dick "I Hate Freedom" Traini on the Anchorage Assembly. These people are cut from the same proto-fascist cloth as George W. Bush. Security first, liberty never. "Child safety" automatically justifies any and every form of tyranny we can dream up. After all, it's for the children, isn't it?

And if that's the case, why do we even need parents? If the state becomes loco parentis, then what are parents for? Oh, I get it. The only reason parents exist in that case is to buy things for their kids and teach them to be good consumers when they grow up. What else can parents do? We make the decision for them whether or not their kids can be exposed to second-hand smoke. Our courts forbid parents from even knowing if their teenage daughters get an abortion, never mind actually allowing them veto power. In many places, we don't allow parents to spank their kids anymore.

It's not about kids - it's about control. They use our kids as an excuse to grind the bootheel of tyranny in our faces. Will we Americans eventually restore control over our lives, or will we continue to hand fundamental freedoms over to a coalition of experts, gadflies, and proto-fascists who think they are born to rule? Bangor may have lost some more of their freedom on January 8th, but we in Anchorage have a chance to take back a chunk of freedom in April by voting to repeal our anti-smoking ordinance. We have the power to liberate the 'Kwa city by city, state by state.

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