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Just a Thought

Ayn Rand once said, “Every major horror of history was committed in the name of an altruistic motive.” In the case of National Prohibition, she could not have been more right.

The Eighteenth Amendment was called “The Noble Experiment” after its failure and repeal. There is little doubt that most in the temperance movement were, indeed, motivated by what they thought was altruism.

Alcohol, they said, corrupted one’s soul and influenced good people to do bad things.

Since prohibitionists could see no good stemming from the availability of alcohol, it was just socially responsible to remove this temptation altogether.

We all know that Prohibition failed. We know that those who needed a drink, found it and those who didn’t need one before the Eighteenth Amendment, often needed one after.

I have been in New York City for nearly two weeks now, and I am more convinced than ever that a new prohibition of sorts has already begun in this country. The temperance movement began state-to-state, building momentum and taking a firmer hold on a national level every year until the amendment passed. A comparison can easily be made between this movement and the more recent anti-smoking movement, and nowhere is it more apparent than in New York City.

With a recent ban on smoking in any enclosed public space – including restaurants, bars and privately owned businesses – politicians in “The City That Never Sleeps” often sound like early 20th century prohibitionists.

Of course, every Portland smoker knows that “Little Beirut” is only a few small steps behind New York City. It is still legal to smoke in bars, if the owner allows it, but no longer legal to smoke in restaurants or other businesses. In addition, just last fall voters approved a tax increase of $0.60 per pack added to already-imposing tobacco taxes.

The arguments used here in New York are the same as those I have heard countless times in Oregon, mostly from self-righteous non-smokers who have an irrationally condescending view of smokers in general.

But, like most political movements that unfairly target a minority population, the evidence is often incomplete and exaggerated.

Take, for example, the regular chalk-scrawled statements on campus proclaiming that second-hand smoke is believed to kill up to 3000 adults in America every year.

While that estimate is accurate, let’s just put it into perspective.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, suicide (29,350 in 2000), firearm injuries (28,874 in 1999) and alcohol-induced injuries (19,171 in 1999) all kill significantly more people than second-hand smoke.

When was the last time you read a chalk note at Portland State advocating banning public intake of alcohol to reduce the number of drunk driving related deaths?

While you will see lines drawn asserting the distance from an entrance smokers must stand and signs pointing to where one may and may not smoke (to protect non-smokers from second-hand smoke), you will never see a sign that points to the local McMenamin’s and warns that drunk drivers could be leaving.

(Let me note also that a proposed $0.10 per bottle beer tax has fallen down dead after attacks from the powerful brewery interests in Oregon.)

While advocates of anti-smoking laws will tell you that they are working to protect non-smokers from an ever-encroaching danger, that their work will lead to less people smoking, that funds raised from taxes could help pay for smoking prevention programs, or that the expected $418 million raised in the 2003-05 session alone could help offset the Oregon Health Plan’s budget crises, none of it is true.

You have just as good of a chance of dying from a stray bullet as from second-hand smoke. Tobacco taxes have not been shown to have any relation to the number of people who smoke in Oregon and figures based on the number of cigarettes sold consistently fail to account for those smokers who have taken to the internet for their purchases. Oregon does not have a smoking prevention program paid for by the state and certainly not one funded by tobacco tax revenue. And the tobacco tax will, in fact, be going almost entirely to the general fund and not to the Oregon Health Plan.

So, in essence, smokers are helping to subsidize your education and cover that beer tax you don’t have to pay when you stop by the Ione or Plaid Pantry between classes.

Rather than giving me dirty looks when you walk out the door or sit down next to me in the Park Blocks, you should be shaking my hand and expressing endless gratitude at the $4.20 that I donate to the state every week and from which I will never again benefit.