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September 2, 2008

Mug Shots


“I freely admit to being condescending toward smoking-ban opponents and their ‘reasons’ because I have facts and evidence on my side, and they have none.” 

—Smoking-debate participant on blog


To me, such expressions of anti-smoking fervor make the case for the existence of “health fascism” with little additional testimony required. 

On Aug. 21, the New Albany City Council passed second and third readings of a stringent indoor smoking ban by identical 5-4 votes. Yesterday morning, Mayor Douglas England vetoed the ordinance, offering three exemptions (bars, private clubs and restaurants with bars that employ and serve only those 21 or older). A vote of 6-3 would be required to overturn a veto. In a city long noted for chicanery, cowardice and the cunning of its ward heelers, anything is possible. 

I believe smoking bans are to community spirit what zebra mollusks are to the intake pipes of local water utilities. Those who introduce the topic into our already fractured civic discourse know full well that next to abortion, smoking is the one topic guaranteed to devolve into civil war if permitted to metastasize.

And metastasize it always does. If we keep to science, secondhand smoke and workplace safety, there can at least be a sensible discussion. Unfortunately, smoking-ban proponents inevitably use their bully pulpits not to defend workers, but to attack smokers. As one supportive of fair play, I find this intolerable. Demonizing smokers does nothing to change their socially objectionable behavior. Tobacco remains legal, and the cause of the prohibitionist’s bludgeon is tragically advanced. 

New Albany’s politicians eagerly transformed the scientific into the political and personal, and I unapologetically responded in kind. The council president himself ejected me from last week’s meeting after I noted his hypocrisy with respect to the length of public comments. In the end, a council faced with numerous civic “musts” has wasted valuable time pursuing a chimera. Why this and why now? I await a coherent answer.  


Roger Baylor is co-owner of the New Albanian Brewing Co. in New Albany. Visit www.potablecurmudgeon.com