The great outdoors is the new frontier of the nanny state, as far as smoking is concerned. The habit is being banned nowadays in public parks, beaches, and university campuses. Supporters of these restrictions claim that they’re in the name of public health, but it is really about control, and maybe about money too, a possibility we’ll explore.
Ronald Bayer, professor at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University, made some startling admissions on the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) NewsHour last July 8th:
I noticed when my students of public health talked about illicit drugs like heroin or cocaine or marijuana, they adopted a libertarian point of view — emphasizing how the government has no business intruding on people’s choices and all those negative consequences. But when I raised the issue of tobacco, they all became in a way, authoritarian. ‘We have to limit smoking, we have to limit where people smoke, we have to protect people from themselves, we have to protect their children.’
In his NewsHour appearance, Professor Bayer then dropped this bombshell:
The evidence of harm to non-smokers on the beach or in a park from someone smoking is virtually non-existent. The evidence that fish and birds are dying because of cigarette butts is virtually non-existent. And even the evidence that seeing someone in a park or beach will encourage kids to smoke is extremely weak.
He went on to admit why smoking is being banned in the open air: “[Smoking bans] make it more difficult for smokers to smoke … and contribute in an important way to the ‘denormalization’ of smoking.” Professor Bayer admits outdoor bans are just a way to bully further smokers who choose to use a legal product:
It’s not that we’re trying to protect non-smokers from sidestream smoke in parks and beaches. We weren’t really concerned about birds and fish. There wasn’t really evidence that we were going to protect kids by disallowing smoking in parks and beaches. What ban proponents really want is to make it less and less easy for people to smoke, because it’s bad for them and we’re trying to protect smokers themselves from a behavior that’s going to increase the risk of disease and death.
The University of Kentucky (UK), a tobacco-producing state, has a campus that bans tobacco use and non-tobacco electronic cigarettes known as e-cigarettes. UK uses an informational video with irritatingly chipper background music to explain its no tobacco and e-cigarettes policy. The presenter, a guy in his 20s who says his name is Zach Norton, explains the university policy that forbids tobacco anywhere on campus including in the private vehicles of students or staff. He informs us that UK students and employees may receive free nicotine patches, gum, or lozenges for 12 weeks if they agree to take part in a “behavioral support programs.” Everyone else may purchase the nicotine patches, gum or lozenges “at a very low cost.” At the two-minute mark, Zach role-plays telling some dude with a cigarette to put it out. Zach has a smug look on his face after the smoking dude meekly walks away. Zach informs that smokers may smoke on the sidewalks along the city streets because they are not owned by UK.
The University of Kentucky has a website that students can use to rat on fellow students who violate the university’s no tobacco policy because, as the school says, “compliance is everyone’s business.” They can confidentially report the date and time of day a violation occurred and a description of the student. Moreover, the school has “ambassadors” who “inform” students, staff, and visitors of the school’s policy.
I wonder if the NSA visits UK for career day? I think they might find some good candidates there.
According to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s website, they awarded the University of Kentucky School of Public Health a grant on October 25, 2012 of $538,239.00. And RWJF awarded UK an additional $122,311.00 on June 11, 2013.
Nicotine gums, patches, and lozenges are permitted at the University of Kentucky. Nicorette is a nicotine gum produced by the Johnson and Johnson (JNJ) family of companies, listed as an over-the-counter tobacco replacement product. Nicorette is made by a JNJ company in Sweden and sold in the United States by GlaxoSmithKline.
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is a not-for-profit organization created by the Johnson and Johnson Company founder, Robert Wood Johnson, and has stock in Johnson and Johnson. The foundation includes anti-smoking efforts as a main part of its mission, and has given $84 million dollars to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. And there’s more.
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is not shy about its goal concerning tobacco.
Dr. Kenneth E. Warner, a former dean of the University of Michigan School of Health, is a project director of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and has stated that one of the foundation’s goals is the prohibition of tobacco: “There is a newfound interest in discussing the idea of an endgame strategy. The fact that we can talk about it openly reflects a sea change. … While we struggle today with often widely divergent perspectives and beliefs, we all share the same vision of the final words to this story: ‘The end’ [of tobacco].”
Twenty years ago, public health officials began telling the public secondhand smoke was dangerous and indoor smoking needed to be banned in order to protect the public from it. (I researched these issues for my book, The War on Smokers and the Rise of the Nanny State, and found that secondhand smoke is not dangerous except in extraordinary and rare circumstances.) Since then, indoor smoking has been banned virtually everywhere except, at least for the time being, in the privacy of smokers’ homes. As I have written in this column, smoking bans have been extended to the outdoors, where the risks of smoke are, in the words of Professor Ronald Bayer, “virtually non-existent.” But, as Dr. Warner shows us, the goal isn’t really public health, but but control, prohibition, and perhaps profit.