Attribute to L. Neil Smith’s The Libertarian Enterprise
Reprinted from Issue Number 23, March 1, 1997
I’ve had a long, thoughtful letter from someone who likes my writing (he mentions me in the same breath as Rand and Bob Wilson!) and is beginning to think that he may be a Libertarian. Like many another beginner (yours truly, back in the 60s) he has a little sticking-point he can’t get past, and he isn’t being helped in his moral struggle by government or the popular culture. That isn’t what government or the popular culture are for, after all. On the contrary.
What prompted him to write was my essay, “When They Came for the Smokers”, which he apparently happened across on the “Webley Page” so kindly maintained for me by Ken Holder. In it, I speak of “nicotine nazis” and an unavoidable truth that what they they really want is to deprive us of pleasure and control us. “Because what they’re all about—what they’ve always been all about—has absolutely nothing to do with the presence or absence of first- or second- or third-hand smoke and whether it harms anybody or not. That’s only their excuse.”
My fan—call him “Safety Orange”—disagrees with that, and goes on to tell me about a grandfather who died of emphysema seven years after he quit smoking, and a grandmother and great-grandmother who died of breast cancer. “All of them were chain smokers,” Safety says, “and the only thing that gave my grandfather his last seven years of life (before the last 18 months of decay) was the fact he went cold turkey after 50 years of a 2-3 pack a day habit … I myself get a headache from smoke … it causes … an allergic reaction in my body. My sinuses, after extended exposure to secondhand smoke, will seem to [become] impact[ed], and … feel like there is a Jamaican steel drum band playing in my nasal passages.” Later, he declares, “I am even affected by people smoking in a car in front of me while driving on roads or highways.”
Safety, there was a time in this country when men used to compare their muscles (or something) and women used to compare their cooking. Now, in this “Age of Entitlement”, the only basis on which we ever seem to compete with one another is the degree of our victimization. Anti-smokers all tell themselves stories exactly like yours. Every one has excuses to offer—to others and himself—for whatever dictatorial policy he advocates. The anti-smoker carefully constructs his excuses so he won’t feel so bad about himself when he agrees with others of his ilk to have those he disapproves of beaten up and killed.
Trouble is, your excuses don’t work with me anymore, nor with anyone who can read my writing. It isn’t my obligation—and never was—to make you comfortable or to sacrifice my life to your phobias. What’s more, I’ve had enough of a plethora of self-appointees on radio and TV who insist on telling me, in the most intimate and personal detail, how I ought to be living, and then claiming that by intruding on me in this manner—violating my privacy and diminishing my sense of self-determinism—they’re performing a “public service”.
Take nicotine, bad old C10-H14-N2, since that seems to be the issue here. I’ll even state the “worst case”, by bringing up “the children” before you do. As it happens, I’m a former smoker, but if I still enjoyed smoking, and if by my example, I were teaching my child to smoke, that would be my business and nobody else’s, no matter how abominable the nicotine nazis might think it was. Otherwise, what would become of their equal right to bring their own kids up as mewling, puking bedwetting, socialist crybaby dogwhistles just like them?
Everyone has a right to pass his culture on. My life is my culture and, in the final analysis, so is my death. It’s my right and duty to teach my way—of life and death—to my child. Whether cigarette smoking is healthy or not is irrelevant, since my health, and that of my child, is my culture, too.
When the nicotine nazis start including in their preachment the fact that tobacco smokers are many times less likely to get Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, or schizophrenia, I may start taking them seriously. When they admit that kids used to inhale tobacco smoke as therapy for asthma, that it worked, and that it’s a common occurrence for people to stop smoking and become asthmatic, ditto. Until then, all they have to offer is propaganda. Oh, yes, and brute force.
Look: you live on a planet which has tobacco smoke as an atmospheric constituent, just as it has petroleum byproducts, asbestos fibers, and ionizing radiation (mostly from coal-fired power plants). We know all too well what we’d have to give up to get rid of the latter pollutants: the Industrial Revolution and all of its its benefits, unprecedented prosperity and life expectancies 3 1/2 times longer than those enjoyed by preindustrial people.
What we give up to get rid of tobacco smoke is freedom. The problem with whimpering about allergies or the aroma of tobacco from the car in front of you is that, in a democracy, I can cancel out everything you say with an observation: I like the smell. I especially like to smell it coming from the car in front of me on the highway. I think there should be more of that kind of thing, right away. Maybe there should be government programs to provide it.
Seriously—and unlike most ex-smokers—I like being where folks are smoking. Not only does it smell good, I know (despite the fact that the Bush Administration tried to suppress this information) that I’m in 10 times less respiratory danger than I would be if I fried bacon in my home a couple times a week. And I’m in 100 times less danger than I would be if I still had my parrot.
The danger of secondhand smoke is a hoax. It may be obnoxious to you (we all differ in our likes and dislikes; yours just happen to be fashionable) but you can’t do anything about it without damaging your own rights in the doing. I don’t like perfume, especially the kind that smells like Black Flag and I have to share an elevator with a woman wearing it. I don’t like the smell of new-mown grass mixed with gasoline. I don’t like the smell of gas mixed with MTBE. And there’s no stench like a couple of hockey teams just coming off the ice.
You may be right, Safety, that you’re not a Puritan. But you’re helping Puritans by holding their coats. Assuming you’re sincere, there’s only one thing to do: be a mensch. There aren’t any No Smoking” highways. Roll up your windows. Buy an air freshener. Turn on the air conditioner, crank it to “High”. Hold your breath. Get noseplugs. Use antihistamines. Endeavor to persevere. Do otherwise, you aid those who’ll find other excuses to control you.
People smoke. They have since before Walter Raleigh “discovered” tobacco, and they’ll go on doing it long after Henry Waxman has tired of whistling for this dog and gone shrilling after another. Get used to it. Learn to live with it.
After all, people learned to live with you.
And if you can’t be a mensch, life offers plenty of real stuff to whine about.