Politics & Policy

Bill de Blasio Hates Freedom

(Kena Betancur/Getty)
Politicians have a yen to ban everything anyone might consider even slightly dangerous.

This week, New York mayor Bill de Blasio signed a ban on using snuff or chewing tobacco at Yankee Stadium and Citi Field. It sounds trivial, but this is actually a damned big deal.

In 1990, New York governor Mario Cuomo signed a ban on smoking in stores and taxis. In 1995, Mayor Giuliani signed a ban on smoking in restaurants. In 2002, Mayor Bloomberg banned smoking in bars. In 2011, he banned smoking in parks and on beaches. The rationale behind all these bans was the dangers of second-hand smoke.

Which is a stupid rationale. In a free country, many things happen in many places that might bother you. If you’re in a bar and you don’t like second-hand smoke, or profanity, or strippers, or liquor, you leave. No one forces you to be there. If you’re in a park and you don’t like second-hand smoke, or scantily clad sunbathers, or a hippie giving a speech on a soap box, you walk away. No one is forcing you to be there either. The freedom to do things other people don’t like is the essence of a free country. You’d think New York’s politicos would have heard that.

(It also bears mentioning that the EPA had to lower its limit for confidence in statistical association from 95 percent to 90 percent in order to get second-hand smoke classified as a carcinogen — something that, back in 1998, got the agency upbraided by a federal judge, who concluded that it had not only “committed to a conclusion before research had begun,” but had “disregarded information and made findings on selective information.”)

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Of course, the goal of government do-gooders isn’t stopping second-hand smoke — it’s stopping first-hand smoke, which is why New York City cigarette taxes have gone up nearly 200 percent in the last ten years. But de Blasio’s ban on nose and mouth tobacco is much worse than any cigarette ban, because it lacks even the pretense that the government is trying to protect innocent bystanders. Unless you believe that de Blasio thinks kids see pouches of snuff at baseball games and run off to the nearest bodega, you have take him at his word that “smokeless” tobacco must be banned because it’s “linked to serious negative health outcomes including cancer, cardiovascular disease, and gum disease.”

The mayor of America’s largest city believes he has the power to forbid you to do things that are linked to gum disease.

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Of course, Bloomberg tried the same thing, in 2012, when he persuaded the New York City Board of Health to ban sugary drinks larger than 16 ounces. The ban was struck down following a lawsuit from the soft-drink lobby. Who’s going to stand up for snuff and dip? Roughly 150 million Americans drink soda every day; only 1 million Americans use smokeless tobacco at all. Personally, I find it repulsive. But I don’t want to be in the position of saying, First they came for the tobacco chewers, and I didn’t speak out, because I didn’t chew tobacco . . . 

#share#Frankly, conservatives have been much too casual in the defense of small freedoms, and much too passive in accepting bureaucratic edicts. We focus on the big fights — the right to bear arms, for instance — and forget about the littler ones. Like the right to ride a motorcycle without a helmet, which is unrestricted in just two states.

Why should it be illegal to pass slow-moving cars on so many empty country lanes? I have places to be! Why should a cop be able to hand out tickets for driving at 75 on a highway where everyone always drives 75? (America’s highway mortality rates, by the way, are twice as high as the rates in Germany, where the majority of highways have no speed limit. So speed isn’t the problem.) Why shouldn’t someone who’s in severe pain be able to buy whatever pain medication he wants? Why should someone who feels like eating a little unpasteurized cheese have to smuggle it home from Paris? 

We’ve shrugged off a lot of small fights. And the only politicians who seem to be interested are irritating isolationist-libertarians like Rand Paul. Will a presidential candidate ever campaign on derestricting cigarettes? Don’t hold your breath. . . . But these are all things you could bring up at your state senator’s next town hall.

And in the meantime, we can all go to a ball game and have a chew for freedom.

Josh Gelernter — Josh Gelernter is a former columnist for NRO, and a frequent contributor to The Weekly Standard.

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