Jewish World Review Nov. 1, 2001 / 15 Mar-Cheshvan, 5762
Debra J. Saunders
Freedom snuffed out
AS THE REST of America fears anthrax attacks
from anonymous correspondents, Los Angeles City
Councilwoman Jan Perry is galvanized to go after
an unestablished health threat. She wants to outlaw
smoking in L.A. city parks and recreational
Perry explained that she sees smoking in
parks as "a public health issue." Smokers endanger
park-goers with asthma or hypertension, they throw
cigarette butts into sandboxes, and they leave
cigarette butts everywhere. Hence, a ban.
On the issue of cigarette butts, Perry has a point.
The answer, however, would be to ban smoking at
playgrounds. Few would object.
Unsightly cigarette butts? Fine smokers who leave
them behind. Make it a big fine.
But the health argument is tortured -- and it shows a
desire to outlaw smoking everywhere they can,
whether it makes sense or not.
(Ken August of California Health Services said,
"From the Health Department's perspective, any
exposure to second-hand smoke is harmful." But
anti-smoking advocates acknowledged that there
has been little research on the subject.)
Hey, if second-hand smoke is harmful to people
outdoors, fellow park-goers can ask the smoker to
move. If the smoker won't move, non-smokers can
Smokers, after all, also pay taxes that fund parks.
They have rights.
Not that Perry seemed to notice. Ditto Sonya
Vasquez, chairperson of the Committee for
Smoke-Free Parks. Vasquez said that her biggest
issue isn't the health of park-goers, it's that adult
smokers are bad role models for kids.
Too bad she's not content to nag. She instead
advocates outlawing non-role- model behavior.
Vasquez explained, "I'm not saying that they don't
have a right to smoke. My personal opinion is that,
in an environment where you have an enormous
amount of people, the majority of whom don't
smoke, it should be the majority versus the minority
who are doing a behavior that's hurting someone
So forget freedom. Majority rules. Minorities
submit. The parks aren't big enough for smokers
She added, "It shouldn't be people's right to do
something that negatively affects me or you or
Actually, rights do give people a right to "negatively
affect" others, I replied. Free speech, for example,
allows others to say things I find offensive.
To which Vasquez, no constitutional scholar,
responded: "Free speech is: You can talk about
something as long as you are not offending
somebody or hurting somebody."
Figure freedom's just another word for nothing
really learned. Or freedom is only for good people
doing good things -- and Perry and Vasquez get to
decide what's good.
And not just in terms of smoking.
If litter is the issue, I asked Perry, why not ban soft
drinks? I see cans in parks.
Not to worry. Perry also wants to ban the sale of
"junk food" at city parks and rec facilities. Latinos
and African Americans, she added, "suffer
disproportionately" from health problems related to
high-sodium and high-fat foods.
I guess you run for office so that you can pass
busybody laws. You use a health pretext where you
can. You cite polls where health isn't an issue.
(Vasquez tells me about 60 percent of people
polled want to outlaw smoking in parks.) Oh, and
you always can invoke "the children."
And if people don't want to be like you -- well, it's
their bad luck not to be elected officials. Book
Comment JWR contributor Debra J. Saunders's column by clicking here.
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