- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 5, 2005

In Virginia, the arbiters of healthy living have moved that much closer to their envisioned responsibility-free society. The state Senate Education and Health Committee voted 8-7 Thursday on a bill that would outlaw smoking in nearly every public building and restaurant in the commonwealth. Yes, Virginians, that includes bars for happy-hour revelers and weekend celebrants. The Virginia Indoor Clean Air Act is far from passage, yet this kind of nanny-state politics can’t be stopped soon enough.

In states, cities and counties across the nation, lawmakers have bought into the idea that lifestyles can be regulated for the sake of public health. Against the powerful anti-smoking lobby, there are few who have shown the nerve it requires to challenge this argument. Those who do all too often are bludgeoned with sentimental arguments, like this one from the Virgina bill’s sponsor, Sen. William Mims: “Every Virginian has the right to breathe clean air, whether indoors or outside. It is time for Virginia to strengthen our laws to protect our citizens from harmful secondhand smoke.” What lawmaker wants to argue that no Virginian has the right to breathe clean air? Or rationally argue against the American Lung Association, which carelessly says that 53,000 people die each year from secondhand smoke?

Like many other liberal causes, the rationale to ban smoking in restaurants and bars rests on flimsy logic: Since smoking causes disease, those who breathe smoke will get sick. The anti-smoking lobby shoves dozens of epidemiological studies — those that profess to find correlations between various diseases and secondhand smoke — at the public, ginning up the myth that secondhand smoke causes cancer. Yet they ignore what science and health columnist Michael Fumento calls “the most exhaustive, longest running study” ever conducted on the matter. Published in 2003 in the British Medical Journal, the 39-year UCLA study of 35,561 Californians who had never smoked showed no “causal relationship between exposure to environmental tobacco smoke [secondhand smoke] and tobacco-related mortality.”

This isn’t to suggest that hanging out at smokey bars is going to make you feel better. But when the science doesn’t support the legislation, lawmakers shouldn’t needlessly step in and take responsibility out of lifestyle choices. And anti-smoking advocates should rein in their demagoguery, such as when ALA spokeswoman Donna Reynolds gushed, “This is a great bill for the lungs, the hearts and the minds of all Virginians.” Allowing Virginians to decide what’s best for them is the proper role of government.

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