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Central Texas: San Marcos bans smoking in context of controversy and criticism

In a further crackdown on personal behavior, San Marcos, Texas (a small city about 30 miles south of Austin) is now enforcing a ban on smoking in or near any city owned property.

Under the ban that went into effect on January 1st, smoking is prohibited in any city-owned buildings as well as municipal parks.

According to a report by KXAN-TV, "The smoke free ordinance also includes electronic cigarettes and vapor devices."

Smokers not only must go outside, but also must be at least ten feet away from any doors or windows.

Beginning this coming June, the smoking ban will expand to include "all restaurants, bars, and other public places in San Marcos" according to the KXAN-TV report.

Fines are stiff, ranging from $200 for a first violation to $500 for a second violation, and rising up to $2,000 for subsequent offenses.

The law hasn't met with unanimous public acceptance.

"It's pretty stupid” said San Marcos resident Josh Garcia, interviewed by Time Warner News. "Because people are going to keep doing it anyways. Trust me."

America's top-level crusade against public smoking, cheered on mainly by a variety of liberal and environmental groups, is strongly questioned by critics on both the conservative right and radical left.

In an op-ed last July in the conservative magazine Forbes, contributor Geoffrey Kabat cited evidence that any factual basis for such laws and regulations "was slim to non-existent."

Kabat cites a study by researchers Ronald Bayer and Kathleen Bachynski, published recently in the journal Health Affairs, that points out

that bans on smoking in these venues have tended to be the result of efforts by local environmentalists and anti-smoking activists, whereas national organizations like the American Lung Association, the American Heart Association, and the American Cancer Society have not voiced their support. Even more tellingly, the former editor of Tobacco Control, the leading journal in this area, characterized the evidence for harm from exposure to outdoor smoke as “flimsy.”

"If these bans are not supported by scientific evidence, what then is their function and the logic underlying their rapid proliferation?" asks Kabat. According to the analysis of Bayer and Bachynski, "they are part of a concerted effort to 'de-normalize' smoking – to increasingly restrict the places in which smoking can take place and thereby progressively make it less feasible and less socially acceptable ...."

Bans on E-cigarettes are also not justified by scientific or medical evidence, according to a report in the East Bay Express.

The paper cites Igor Burstyn, a professor and researcher at Drexel University's School of Public Health, who "recently conducted a review of scientific studies on e-cigs and concluded that they pose no risks to bystanders."

"It is important to realize that not everything related to tobacco is bad" Burstyn told the paper.

On the radical left, the main opposition to the crusade to outlaw smoking comes from the revolutionary Marxist Spartacist League and its newspaper Workers Vanguard, which sees this as an ongoing multi-pronged effort by American capitalism's ruling class to regiment the nation's population — and particularly the working class — in the context of a crumbling and dysfunctional socio-economic system.

According to a 10 June 2011 report in the paper, "the smoking bans, like the imposition of random drug and alcohol tests on workers, are ... part and parcel of a broad-gauged campaign of regimenting the population, cracking down on workers’ rights, increasing productivity (those three-minute breaks add up!) and just simple random cruelty."

And, assert the Spartacists, this campaign is aided and abetted by what it calls "beansprout totalitarians" using protection of health and the environment as a pretext for repressive measures.

In this view, the medical evidence for health threats from secondhand smoke is phony:

Much of the ballyhoo dates back to an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report (Respiratory Effects of Passive Smoking, December 1992) that claimed to deduce a correlation — based on 31 extant studies — between exposure to smoke and a “19 percent” higher risk of lung cancer, particularly in the case of nonsmoking wives of smokers. Yet almost none of the results can be considered statistically significant. In fact, nine out of the 31 studies showed a negative correlation between secondary smoke and lung cancer. As for the 19 percent figure, a number this low in such a study could be explained by anything from pure chance to previous family history. For smokers, by comparison, where a connection is clear, the increased incidence of lung cancer was on the order of 2,000 percent. This concocted report, by the way, came from the same government agency that nine years later would tell residents of lower Manhattan that the air around Ground Zero was fit to breathe one week after the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, even as the site was burning and releasing highly toxic particles.

An earlier 1994 article positioned smoking bans and similar efforts to control behavior in a larger perspective:

This creeping ‘health fascism’ has nothing to do with the public’s welfare. Medical evidence on the effects of "secondary smoke" is inconclusive, and the obvious solution is to provide adequate ventilation for everybody. But that isn’t profitable, so of course it’s not even seriously proposed.… In the meantime, millions of people have been killed off through malnutrition, inadequate medical care and other effects of poverty, while billions of dollars are poured into building more prisons. ... As far as we’re concerned, people ought to be able to read, eat, drink, smoke, and enjoy whatever consensual activities they want without cops, courts, employers and yuppie totalitarians sticking their noses in.

The Spartacist League, and some other groups on the left, argue that money would be better spent to find cures for serious diseases, urban renovation, decent housing, education, and adequate medical care for everyone.

Whatever the pretexts and motivations for smoking bans, it seems clear that the major players at the control panel of American society are determined to eradicate tobacco use and perhaps eliminate or repress other aspects of consensual public behavior, with only minuscule resistance currently visible in their path.

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