EDITORIAL: Gov. Mary Fallin overstepped with order to ban tobacco use
Our View: A statewide ban on tobacco products violates Oklahomans’ rights and won’t end smoking.
OU’s plan to ban smoking on campus and create two designated smoking areas was superseded Monday by Gov. Mary Fallin’s executive order banning tobacco use on all state-owned and state-leased properties, including universities, public parks and state buildings.
We’re sympathetic to the governor’s reasoning for the ban — the serious health effects of smoking and the rising costs of health care for state employees — and don’t want to downplay the negative impact tobacco use has on Oklahomans’ health. But this order is a broad overreach of executive power.
For a self-named conservative Republican, who just this week announced a plan to cut the income tax to increase citizens’ autonomy from the state, Fallin seems to have little concern about handing down a mandate restricting a legal activity. The state is playing the mother here, making decisions for citizens based on what Fallin thinks is best for them.
Yes, the state has a vested interest in the health of its citizens, and yes it is seeing higher health care costs for smokers. But neither of those factors are sufficient justification for the state to transgress against citizens’ right to smoke.
And make no mistake: That’s what is really going on here. It’s not just about keeping tobacco out of state-owned places. How much would that really impact health and health care costs if smokers continue to smoke at home? No, it’s clear that the purpose of this ban is to coerce tobacco users to quit their habit by making it inconvenient to continue.
As if that will help anyone overcome an addiction. We hate to break it, Fallin, but that’s not how addiction works. Addicts must choose to give up a substance before they will be able to, and until then, no state-enforced ban will force them to quit. The failed war on drugs should be proof enough of that.
Attempting to coerce individuals to give up a legal recreational activity because state officials (or even the majority of Oklahomans) find it distasteful is a clear abuse of power and transgression against those citizens’ basic right to autonomy. Even when that activity is dangerous to the individual — even life threatening — it is not the place of the state to step in and protect a citizen from themselves.
That only applies, of course, up to the point where that citizen’s actions begin to infringe on another’s rights. Smoking should be banned inside restaurants, workplaces and other buildings, where people cannot avoid inhaling secondhand smoke. But it’s difficult to see how allowing smokers some out-of-the-way, outdoors location to smoke would expose others to the effects of tobacco. Just walk around it.
And smokeless forms of tobacco should be allowed anywhere, at the discretion of private business and employers, since they do not infringe on other’s right to a healthy lifestyle.
If the state is really concerned with improving Oklahomans’ health, a blanket ban like this is an ineffective solution. Instead of contenting themselves with such a symbolic gesture, state officials should look into alternative ways to educate their citizens and encourage them to quit.
How about funding more tobacco education and cessation programs? What about creating a tax break for companies that implement cessation programs, or for those that get a certain number of employees to quit smoking each year?
Or creating a program for federal employees to encourage them to quit and incentivize them with a bonus for doing so — and then releasing the program as a model for private companies to emulate.
As for the monetary effect, why not continue to increase insurance premiums for state employees who smoke to offset the rising health care costs?
Oklahomans need to come together as a community — officials and citizens — to encourage fellow citizens to make healthier choices. And after all the education, all the incentives and all the opportunities to quit, if they still choose to inflict harm on their body, they should be allowed to.