Our Liberty Going Up in Smoke

By Richard Boughton

You’ve got to be kidding me. A no-smoking law passed in Bali? It can’t be, and yet it is apparently so. Soon hotels, restaurants, tourist attractions, government offices, places of worship, and who knows what else — bars, boats, cars, bikes, malls, the insides of buildings and the outsides of buildings and anywhere within 50 feet of a building – will all be smoke-free havens for those few people in Bali who actually don’t smoke. Congratulations to the Bali legislative council – you’ve just become a Western nation. Now big brother is watching you, too.

What, I wonder, is the irresistible attraction of this runaway anti-smoking campaign? What causes the leadership of just about every country to want to jump on the bandwagon of legislation that rests not only on bad science but on the dangerous notion that the freedom of an individual to make his own choices can be made subject to government control? Do we really want to join that party? Does Bali – does Indonesia – really want to bleed itself dry of all the colour of character by imitating the restrictive, conformist, stodgy, reductive, timid, paranoid social rules of political correctness that plague modern-day Western countries?

I say that if you want to smoke, smoke; if you don’t want to smoke, don’t. But don’t make a law of every little thing. This is one of the reasons I left America. It was suffocating. Not from cigarette smoke, but from the strangulating grip of countless special-interest groups – humourless, lacklustre, anal-retentive biddies and snobs who somehow managed to make law of opinion, and a travesty of the right to personal choice.

Here in Bali I found a different society – and ironically, a society much like the one I used to know as a young man in America. I rediscovered a society of common agreement, ordered not so much by law as by common sense. I found a freedom of expression and movement and action that made me feel once again like a dog with his head out the window and his ears flapping in the wind. I could breathe again. I could speak my mind. I could jay walk (at my own risk, and yet by choice). And I could smoke a cigarette just about anywhere I wanted to.

What are the real facts about smoking? Well, for one thing it doesn’t cause lung cancer. It may contribute, along with a multitude of other considerations. The process of developing cancer is complex and multifactorial. It involves genetics, the immune system, cellular irritation, DNA alteration, dose and duration of exposure and much more. It’s not a simple matter – and don’t let them tell you it is. Every member of my immediate family died of cancer. None of them smoked. How’s that for a statistic?

How about the dreaded secondhand smoke, that fairly recent modulation of paranoia that has made pariahs of those who smoke. Well, by the time secondhand smoke is inhaled by another person it has been filtered by the cigarette itself, and then by the smoker’s own lungs. What’s left? Not much. A World Health Organisation study did not show that secondhand smoke statistically increased the risk of getting lung cancer. Environmental Protection Agency statistics, moreover, show that living with a heavy smoker over a period of 30-40 years will only increase the non-smoker’s chance of getting lung cancer from 0.4 percent to 0.6 percent. Want a better chance of getting lung cancer? Try stepping outside your door in any modern industrialized city and taking a good, deep breath.

All cancers combined account for only 13 percent of all annual deaths, and lung cancer only 2 percent. Given the actual numbers, one has to wonder what’s really behind the hysteria.

It’s not a question of public health; it’s of individual freedom. If I die of lung cancer, that’s on me. If I die from eating too much fried chicken, or from someone sitting near me eating too much fried chicken, that’s on me, too.

“Yes, smoking is bad for you,” writes J.P. Siepmann in the Journal of Theoretics, “but so is fast-food hamburgers, driving and so on. We must weigh the risk and benefits of the behaviour both as a society and as an individual based on unbiased information. Be warned, though, that a society that attempts to remove all risk terminates individual liberty and will ultimately perish.”

Smoking is an Indonesian pastime. It’s part of Indonesian heritage. It’s as Indonesian as bakso and sate (neither of which is probably good for you). What a shame it is that this government of Bali has so bought into another culture’s propaganda and agenda.

I’m a smoker. I like to smoke. I regret that there are some who do not appreciate smoking, but I will not fault them for it; nor will I seek a law against them.

Richard can be contacted via richybeester@gmail.com.

Filed under: Practical Paradise

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