I rarely find myself at odds with my colleagues on the El Cajon City Council, but this week I was. The issue was on writing a letter of support for SB 151, a bill which would raise the legal age to smoke from 18 to 21. All of the members of my council are conservative in their ideology, but I felt they had missed the mark on this issue. I was the only vote against sending a letter.
The main thrust of their argument was that smoking kills and that it is the responsibility of the government to protect its citizens. Two of my fellow council members had heartfelt stories to tell about loved ones whom had died of smoking. It was acknowledged that this might be an overreach of government, but this was acceptable because of the great harm caused by smoking.
It was also acknowledged by my colleagues that both Sen. Joel Anderson and Assemblyman Brian Jones (along with most other Republicans) were against this bill, but their judgement was in question due to taking money from tobacco lobbyists.
I argued that raising the age of smoking from 18 to 21 was a clear case of government overreach. It is not the place of the government to tell legal adults what legal products they can use. I understand that there are exceptions, like the legal age to drink alcohol, but it is clear to me that this is a law aimed at protecting the public from young people who are more prone to drink and drive, than it is to protect young people from alcohol. I pointed out that for the past decade we allow men and women below the age of 21 to fight and die in our military and it would be hypocritical to allow them to do so, but not to make their own decision to smoke or not smoke.
Are we willing to ban skateboarding because kids break bones, or the riding of Harleys because so many riders get killed? At what point do we acknowledge that sometimes adults make bad choices and they then are responsible for the consequences?
A more overriding concern for me is the fact that we as conservatives have to be intellectually honest. We are offended when the Mayor of New York regulates the size of a soda we can buy, or liberals all over the country want to limit our rights to own guns, but we use the same framework of an argument when the issue is about something with which we have a problem.
What I am saying is that it is hypocritical to decry the loss of our freedoms when things we believe in are limited or banned, but we then turn around and use the same arguments to limit or ban something offensive to us. This is why we tolerate flag burning. This is why we would never pass a law to ban a Mosque.
The precedent set by passing SB 151 will strengthen future attempts to criminalize preaching some passages of the Bible from the pulpit, while calling it “hate speech.” Just as my colleagues used the ‘ends justifies the means’ argument to advocate for raising the smoking age, I predict that leftists will make the same argument to ban free political/religious speech in the name of it being called “hate speech.”
We must decide who we are and what we believe in. We must have an intellectual framework which we use to make decisions. The alternative is a mess of laws and regulations based upon the bias and emotions of whoever is in power at the time. It is the framework of the Constitution that has made America the greatest nation in all of human history. Adopting an ideological framework is not easy to do; it takes intellectual discipline.
Frustratingly, there will be times when stupid behaviors like smoking have to be defended, but I’m much more worried about the death of our way of life than I am about the dangers of smoking.