This post does not touch on theology but it does affect the way we think about our relationship to the government and its intrusion into our lives.
On May 1, the no-smoking ban goes into effect here in Michigan. More than thirty other states already have these bans in place. My home state of Florida enacted a similar ban a decade ago while my wife’s home state of Georgia enacted a similar ban around the same time. Michigan is behind the times on this issue (which should not be surprising since it consistently rates as one of the top states in terms of smokers per capita).
Three main arguments are advanced in opposition to this ban.
- The government should not be able to tell private businesses what they can and cannot do in their establishments.
- This will pose, especially at the beginning, a strain on law enforcement and trouble for proprietors.
- This will lead to an unwarranted intrusion into the homes of private individuals in the form of bans on smoking in homes and vehicles.
I will address each of these arguments, then make a statement about personal choice, then conclude with some thoughts about what this means for Christians.
1. The argument that the government should not be able to tell private businesses what they can and cannot do in their establishments is a red herring since the government already tells business owners many things that they can and cannot do.
For example, the government tells business who they can and cannot sell to: they cannot sell alcohol, cigarettes, or pornography to minors. They cannot even sell to adults without proper identification in many cases.
The government says that businesses must provide health insurance to certain employees under certain circumstances.
The government even tells them what to clean in their establishments and how to clean them. It cites them for violations for leaving trash in certain places, for not cleaning the hood over a stove, and for not having the dish water at a certain temperature.
No one is complaining about these intrusions because we realize that such intrusions are warranted for the health, safety, and enjoyment of the greatest number of the population that will patronize an establishment.
2. The second argument, that this will pose, especially at the beginning, a strain on law enforcement and trouble for proprietors is not supported by the evidence.
None of the other thirty-plus states with smoking bans in place have reported trouble providing safety or enforcing law because of their respective smoking bans.
I’m not sure how it will work here in Michigan, but as I understand it, the health department will be charged with enforcing this ban and they will probably enforce it in the form of violations and fines or threat of closure if not enforced.
Sure there may be proprietors going too far in the beginning, but this is no different than a seat belt law (which, incidentally, had many of the same argument levied against it when enforced in my own home state; now such laws are found in all fifty states and no one bats an eyelash).
After a few weeks everyone will settle in to this and learn where the boundaries are.
3. The third argument is that this ban will lead to an unwarranted intrusion into the homes of private individuals in the form of bans on smoking in homes and vehicles.
This slippery slope argument is also not supported by the evidence. With the exception of a few nutty cases, such intrusions have not occurred in the other thirty or so states where such bans are in force.
One final argument usually brought out during debates like this is the argument regarding personal choice. But is this a matter of personal choice? I don’t think so. Here’s why.
1. Every time someone seeks medical help for smoking-related sicknesses, there is a cost that must be supported by everyone else, the other members of the HMO or insurance group, or, in the case of those with no insurance, the taxpayers.
(I realize that the same may be said of those who overeat, and, while I agree, that doesn’t change the fact that this is still true of smokers.)
2. Like alcoholism and sexual addiction, smoking harms everyone in the household or on the job.
I have known several families where the child has a perpetual nasty and hacking cough or persistent illness that is undoubtedly the result of the smokers in the house.
Workers on job sites where pollutants are in the air are required to wear facemasks, but the server at your local restaurant has no such protection.
Ditto for those patrons who are forced to sit around you. I realize that those patrons could go to another establishment, but then the smoker could, too.
Smoking and Personal Rights
This question of rights is a sticky one, I know. But the right to smoke in a public place is no right at all. It is not a right guaranteed by any law or legislative body and the practice is, in Western society, relatively recent (only 400 years or so, since tobacco was first brought to Europe from the New World).
Why then should the right of one who wants to do this infringe upon the right of the one who doesn’t, whether they be family members, a co-worker, an employee, or another patron?
The smoker cannot give any sufficient reason why their right to do something not necessary to life, liberty, or the pursuit of happiness, should be guaranteed in any place at any time, especially when that action endangers the life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness of those around them.
Christians and the Law
In terms of believers (and leaving aside the question of whether or not a Christian should smoke; that’s for another post), the Scriptures are clear that Christians are to submit to the authorities in every way possible. If this ban was a ban on reading the Bible to oneself in a public place, things would be different (I have actually faced such a ban on a job) but this ban has to do with something that one does not need in order live as a Christian. There is no reason a Christian can give for trying to circumvent this law, either as a business-owner or as an individual. Christians should abide by this law in every respect.
Perhaps any Christian who reads this and who smokes should consider this a gift from God. Our lives are ordered by the Lord and one reason is so that we can be more like Christ. If you have not found sufficient reason to quit before, maybe this will give you a reason to quit smoking now.
My prayer for you is that you will know the Spirit’s power as you submit to his Lordship on this issue.