Sara Bagheri: Ban could spur loss of personal freedom

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When I tell people that I’m against a smoking ban, one of two responses inevitably comes out: “So you want people to smoke?” Or, more nuanced still, something along the lines of “Cancer!” 

Regarding cancer, I assure everyone that I do, in fact, hate cancer. I’m certainly no scientist, but I try to point out that there is a long list of cancer-causing chemicals in our modern environment with sources ranging from paint to gas drilling emissions.

Tobacco is but one of a crowded field. 

Addressing the first comment is more complicated. In the interest of full disclosure, in 2003, I helped start Denton’s first hookah lounge at Bagheri’s Restaurant on Fry Street, and that business is still in operation today.

So, I suppose it is fair to say I may have something to gain if people smoke hookah tobacco.

Yet as a lawyer, I earn my fees when new laws are enacted. It certainly doesn’t benefit me to advocate for less law.

My concern with a smoking ban doesn’t stem from money or smoking. Rather, my concern is with the scope and degree of government curtailment of personal liberties.

I agree with British philosopher Thomas Hobbes that life without any government would be “nasty, brutish and short.”

It seems however, that life with too much government is nasty, brutish and long. 

Our representatives in the city, and Rep. Myra Crownover before them, point to scientific evidence that secondhand smoke is harmful to human health as justification for preventing adults from smoking tobacco in just about every public establishment you can conceive of.

They also insist this harm is unavoidable.

I may be alone in my belief, but it appears to me that no one, in this age of infinite dining and drinking choices, is forced to inhale secondhand smoke against their will.

As for the employees of smoking establishments, I will go on record and say that they, too, have a choice in their employment, as slavery has long gone out of favor. 

But let’s assume for a moment that we all live in some type of Soviet smoking gulag (or a Turkish Airlines transcontinental flight) and are forced against our will to inhale copious amounts of secondhand smoke. Does this threat to our health justify government intervention?

If a threat to public health is the justification to make a behavior illegal, what other individual behaviors can the city, county, state or federal government outlaw under the premise of public health?

Let’s stick with the concern over “unavoidable” second-hand smoke.

Any good barbecue joint is going to be filled with smoke at various times of the day. That divine smell contains many of the same cancer-producing toxins as cigarette smoke.

I don’t see anyone clamoring in Austin or City Hall to outlaw brisket.

Yet.

How about soda? There is no nutritional value to it whatsoever and it has been scientifically proven to be harmful to humans who consume it.

Further, like secondhand smoke, we are all affected by it because consumption of it contributes to the acidification of public water supply. Should we ban soda?

Leaders in New York City certainly believed the threat to public health was great enough.

I could go on. And that is exactly the problem.

When the government decides to justify its reach into personal liberties based on something as broad as public health, it opens up a world of possibilities for the government and it closes a world of possibilities, good and bad, for the individual.

Viewed this way, the question isn’t “is smoking bad?”

Instead we ought to ask, “Is protection from some known and avoidable risks to our health worth living in a world where adults are not free to decide what risks we wish to take?”

In the case of secondhand smoking, my answer is unequivocally, “No.”

SARA BAGHERI is an attorney at the Denton law firm of Minor & Jester PC and a member of the city of Denton Citizen’s Ad Hoc Smoking Ordinance Committee. She is a 1999 graduate of Ryan High School.


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