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No Butts about It, Smoking Needs To Go

Column by Michael K. Chung
Opinion Editor

What's so bad about limiting the rights of smokers? Americans are guaranteed the three so-called "inalienable" rights: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. However, disputes evolve when one's pursuits of happiness conflicts with those of someone else. Such is the case with smoking -- secondhand smoke just isn't healthy for anyone else, and because it isn't, smoking should not be allowed anywhere where it can potentially harm another without their consent.

Smoking does nothing beneficial for those who smoke. It may, however, make one appear glamorous and "cool" to those with whom one associates, which is why a lot of teenagers start smoking during high school. And while smoking might make people feel "relaxed" and more mellow, I simply feel that it is rude for one to smoke in the presence of others without their consent.

If you want to smoke, fine -- just smoke in the privacy of your own home, not outside of it. And don't go crying to the U.S. government to pick up your health care costs if you get develop cancer, asthma, bronchitis, emphysema, heart disease, or other maladies.

Currently, one debate focuses on smoking in the workplace. Many companies are eliminating smoking in the office; some are even choosing non-smoking candidates over equally qualified smoking candidates, as well as cutting down health care benefits for those who do smoke.

While this may be construed as unfair, it actually seems quite reasonable. Why should an employer pay for additional health insurance costs for someone who smokes and is informed about the risks of smoking? One who smokes should be somewhat knowledgeable about the costs (health and financial) of smoking. If one is not aware, then one should not smoke.

The proposed idea of affixing a $1.25 tax to each pack of cigarettes to help finance health care reform will not solve problems, though. In fact, it sounds hauntingly like Social Security -- "put your money where we, your aging and cancerous congressmen, can use it to pay for our own health care costs, and not leave you with a single red cent."

What upsets me is the blatant disregard and ignorance of smokers in the presence of others. If I see someone lighting up, it shouldn't be my responsibility to ask him to extinguish his cigarette, pipe, or cigar. Rather, it should be his responsibility to ask the people around him if it is okay for him to smoke. If he does not want to bother, then he should seek a private place to smoke.

Certainly a complete and sudden ban on smoking will create widespread controversy and be practically impossible to impose. The tobacco industry is a much too large and established institution to eliminate altogether. Also, medical doctors may protest that people should be allowed to smoke so that money can be earned from treating their diseases. Then of course, the people of America will argue incessantly over their right to smoke.

I am not calling for such a ban, but a reduction in the consumption of tobacco products in public and work places, as well as a change of attitude in the smoking population. Smokers must be more mindful and aware of those around them.

If some people truly cannot live without smoking, then let them smoke. But allow them to smoke only in their homes (or approved isolated smoking sites), pay for their own health costs, and respect the air and health of others.