This week legislation was introduced to ban smoking in public and places of employment
By Rev. Mark H. Creech
Christian Action League of North Carolina
No one is an island to himself. We may deny this truth in various ways, but the fact is we are social beings, inseparably interdependent upon each other. It is a law of life that even our personal and private acts have their social consequences.
Nowhere is this better demonstrated than by the smoker’s secondhand smoke. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, not only has secondhand smoke been shown to increase nonsmokers’ risk of heart disease, stroke and cancer, but nonsmokers exposed to secondhand smoke often also have the same tobacco-related illnesses as active smokers. Approximately 35,000 nonsmokers die from secondhand smoke annually; an estimated 1,220 to 2,180 of those are North Carolinians.
No doubt this is the main reason Rep. Hugh Holliman, the state House majority leader — and a lung cancer survivor — is pushing for legislation that would ban smoking in public places and places of employment. Though it would seem that this legislation’s time has come, some lawmakers are still reluctant to support it. Yet the primary arguments against the measure are hardly able to survive careful moral scrutiny.
SOME ARGUE THAT THIS IS JUST ANOTHER INTRUSION of big government on freedom. The Judeo-Christian position, which the state’s laws are largely based upon, teaches that one should refrain from any practice that does demonstrable harm to the body. The Scriptures contend the body ought to be treated as the sacred Temple of God. Scriptures also argue that the primary responsibility of government is to protect the welfare of the citizenry and to suppress evil.
Certainly there are ways in which government can be too invasive in people’s lives. But this is not one of them. People who wish to protect their own health from secondhand smoke should have the “unalienable right” — the God-given right — of the assistance of their government in that endeavor.
Designated smoking areas in open buildings in public places cannot provide the best protection the government can give. Someone once rightly likened a designated smoking area in an open building to a “urination section” in a swimming pool — it’s just not the protection the public needs.
OTHERS ARGUE THE MEASURE is an unnecessary government regulation of business. It is proper that government be sensitive to those who have worked hard, established a business and have a certain clientele. Yet the evidence is mounting that smoke-free laws protect health without harming businesses. The U.S. Surgeon General noted in his 2006 report,: “Evidence from peer-reviewed studies show(s) that smoke-free policies and regulations do not have an adverse impact on the hospitality industry.”
But even if there were no such reassurances, the potential for relieving the current medical burden from secondhand smoke ought to be reason enough to garner support for the bill.
Still, some make the case that Holliman’s bill would be a violation of property rights. It’s a weak argument. More legitimate is the contention that no one should have the right to destroy, injure or violate the ultimate property right — another person’s body. This is exactly what secondhand smoke does. Certainly the government wouldn’t allow a restaurant to operate with a cesspool that contaminated the food and water — even if a sign on the door warned of the health risk.
NO, THESE CONTENTIONS against Holliman’s bill are similar in principle to that of Cain, who callously said to God while his brother lay dead in a nearby field: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” The fact is that we are bound together in a bundle of life. It is impossible to be solitary, isolated persons. And as the great biblical commentator Matthew Henry once admonished: “Those who are unconcerned in the affairs of their brethren, and take no care, when they have opportunity to prevent their hurt in their bodies, do, in effect, speak Cain’s language.”
(Rev. Mark H. Creech is executive director of the Raleigh-based Christian Action League of North Carolina Inc.)