Some Reflections on How Certain Laws Come to Pass, Or Why, Many Times, There Ought Not to Be a Law
People are constantly asking me about getting arrested. For some of those who'll be disappointed, I'm sorry, but smoking isn't an arrestable offense. I've even been told by several policemen and a Health Department official that you don't have to give your name to an officer! You would think that the minimal requirement for an ordinance would be enforceability. But the smoking ordinance seems to fail even this primitive test. You would also suppose that the ordinance would be backed by elaborate research. According to the same Health Department official, G.A.S.P. did not reveal the results of the research it claims to have. The tests on humans I've read about are too far-fetched to apply to public places. The undisclosed tests on mice that G.A.S.P. says are 'suggestive' are hardly conclusive. In other words, the City Council passed an apparently unenforceable ordinance on little or no evidence of a serious health problem. It never occurred to the Council that if they could pass this ordinance without quite knowing why, a lot of people would stop smoking for the same reason -- namely, public pressure exerted by non-smokers. This kind of public pressure, though somewhat irksome, is infinitely preferable to legislative 'solutions' which are arbitrary, expensive, and often ineffective. But then, perhaps they passed the law because legislators are supposed to legislate, Additionally, maybe G.A.S.P. wanted the law as a sort of head on their pike to symbolize their triumph.
To give an example of how much non-smokers had accomplished before the law was passed, I would guess that no more than 30 people out of several thousand smoke each day in my store. If the health issue seems specious, the ordinance does no better with the clause about smoking damage to merchandise. I can't imagine many stores that have had that problem. In fact, I've never lost a book to smoke damage and I'm sure Eclair Bakery never lost a cookie. Similarly, I suspect is the case for most other stores as well. Besides, shouldn't store owners set their own rules about anything that might damage their merchandise? And the exemption granted restaurants is totally senseless, since non-smoker complain more about smoking in restaurants (and there's much more of it) than anywhere else.
Thinking about the paranoia and panic which caused this superfluous legislation led me to thinking about what might happen when the inevitable doctor makes the inevitable discovert that almost everything causes cancer. Think of the mountain of legislation that might erupt to protect us from ourselves and each other. For example, a law might be passed banning sex between uncircumcised males and females because of the danger of cancer. Exposing oneself to the sun might be banned, since it's well known that such exposure is a principle cause of skin cancer. Irritation causes cancer, and all strenuous forms of activity -- including sports and manual labor -- would have to be banned. Raised beds would be illegal, since bumps caused by falling from beds could be a cause of cancerous tumors. The movie producer who said, "I should have stayed in bed," could be cited for harboring dangerous thoughts. Of course, worrying about one's health (and what else is there left to do?) caused more cancer than anything else. So people were monitored for cancer-breeding thoughts. But some people decided that the best way to live in such a dangerous world was to accept a certain number of self-indulgent and even dangerous pleasures. These people, of course, were imprisoned while the rest of us were issued Pleasure Coupons curtailing us to our quota of socially redeeming pleasures each month. In this future world, all pleasures were examined for cancer risks, and all pleasures that didn't cause cancer could be condemned for social uselessness. The moral of all this is that a government prodded by militant hypochondriacs could end up doing us all more harm than the "problems" it was supposed to be protecting us from. The fact is, we're more intelligent and courteous than the government and can handle many of our problems better than legislators, lawyers, experts, and policemen.
-- By Moe Moskowitz, City Miner Magazine, July 1977