We Could Save A Lot Of Lives If The Government Made All Our Choices For Us

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The Fargo Forum has an editorial today responding to my interview with North Dakota Hospitality Association director Rudie Martinson from earlier this week. As is the norm with Forum editorials it’s intemperate and not very thoughtful, relying on invective over insight to make childish points on this always-controversial topic. According to the Forum, we needn’t worry that this law approved by voters allows for government officials to remove business and other occupational licenses on the flimsiest of grounds because the emphasis will be on “education not enforcement.”

If that were true, one wonders why the anti-smoking gestapo needed such draconian new powers.

But setting that aside, this paragraph in the editorial caught my eye:

As the “no smoking” signs go up in new places all over the state, it’s worth remembering that more than 800 adults die from smoking every year in North Dakota. Smoking is the state’s top cause of preventable death. In the two years since South Dakota passed a statewide smoking ban, the number of hospitalizations for heart attacks decreased 6 percent, partly due to the smoking ban. That meant 98 fewer heart attacks, and a savings of $4.2 million in health-care costs, according to a study by the South Dakota Association of Healthcare Organizations. North Dakota’s new ban, as unpopular as it is for a vocal minority, will save money – and lives.

Setting aside the questions about these numbers (the anti-smoking activists are notorious for using junk science and phony statistics), and whether or not the state’s new smoking ban is really going to reduce smoking among citizens (doubtful), this is an alarming premise.

If we can justify intrusive policies such as smoking bans through calculations of lives and dollars saved, which of our freedoms are safe?

For instance, some 150 people have died in traffic accidents on North Dakota roads in 2012. Quite a few more have been injured. The impact in terms of health care costs are significant. So, if we can ban smoking to save a few hundred lives, why can’t we ban driving?

If that seems absurd, let’s talk about something that’s less absurd. What about cheeseburgers? Fast food, and sugary beverages, contribute to diabetes and other health problems. No doubt we could save hundreds of lives, and countless millions in health care costs, if the government mandated healthier diets and exercise regimes.

Of course, that would trample individual choice when it comes to diet and health care, but we’ve proven with the smoking bans that we care little for choice when stacked up against the needs of public health.

And look no further than places like New York and Los Angeles where bands on sodas, salt and fast food restaurants are the leading edge in this latest attempt to remove our personal liberties in the name of public health.

We are setting dangerous precedents in this war on tobacco that pose serious risks for our liberties going forward.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com. In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters. He writes a weekly column for several North Dakota newspapers, and also serves as a policy fellow for the North Dakota Policy Council.

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