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A Civil Libertarian and Non Smoker Speaks Up
Expanding the City's Smoking Ban is Not Justifiable
Let me preface my remarks by stating that I am not a smoker and feel that that the presence of smoke in public spaces is both a nuisance and an arguable health hazard to non-smokers. However, as a civil libertarian, I feel I must speak up on the issue of the proposed expansion of our city’s smoking ban. In my considered opinion, smoking bans generally infringe on our civil rights and possibly our constitutional rights. Whether smoking falls under the freedom of expression in the First Amendment is something that has been debated for many years, but I believe that the issue is much broader and revolves more practically around our historic notions of the Great Social Contract.
The idea of the social contract is one of the foundational principles of American society. It is the belief that the state only exists to serve the will of the people, and they are the source of all political power enjoyed by the state. The people can choose to give or withhold this power. Philosophers like Thomas Hobbes initially argued that when people mutually agreed to create a state, they “ contracted” only to give the state enough power to provide for the protection and well-being of the society as a whole and no more. However, Hobbes came to believe that once the power was given to the state, the people then relinquished any right to that power. In effect, that would be the price of the protection they sought. For me as a civil libertarian, this is where the wheels come off the wagon.
Governments, and certainly not out local city government, do not have the right to tell me what I can and can’t do in public spaces so long as that activity is not unlawful; and smoking is not against the law. Whether or not smokers chose, as a matter of their own ideas of social contract, to indulge their habit in less occupied spaces is something they must wrestle with in good conscience. But we cannot legislate away the right to make that decision nor can we, in my view, abridge the “right to quiet enjoyment” of public spaces afforded equally to smoker and nonsmoker alike.
The question of whether the proposed expansion is another not so subtle effort to force the homeless out of our downtown I will leave for others. But my concept of the Great Social Contract does not include the abridgment of civil liberties, not mine nor anyone else’s.