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Infringement on Rights

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Recently, my sister and I got into an argument regarding smoking. At first, she said that smoking should be banned in all bars, private or public. Then she went even further and said that because smoking is harmful, it should be completely prohibited, regardless if it's done in a private or public place--because those smoke molecules eventually enter into the lungs of those who do not wish to smoke, thus impinging upon their rights.

I am wondering how some of you argue against arguments of this type (i.e. ones that are highly speculative, theoretical, but nonetheless highly speculative). As I agreed that eventually some minute and insignificant amount of cirgarette smoke would ineluctably enter my lungs, even if it was smoked far away from me, I argued that it was much more dangerous to our "health" and to individual rights to have a government that oppresses such an unenforceable and theoretical act of hazard, than it would be to allow smokers to continue smoking.

It also seems that because so many cases can be made for--I guess I will call them "speculative rights infringements" that it would be absurd to try an enforce any of them---and if we did enforce them, we'd quickly end up with a dictatorship.

Anyhow, what I'm looking for are suggestions in how to refute these type of arguments--all help is appreciated.

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Recently, my sister and I got into an argument regarding smoking.  At first, she said that smoking should be banned in all bars, private or public.  Then she went even further and said that because smoking is harmful, it should be completely prohibited, regardless if it's done in a private or public place--because those smoke molecules eventually enter into the lungs of those who do not wish to smoke, thus impinging upon their rights.

I am wondering how some of you argue against arguments of this type (i.e. ones that are highly speculative, theoretical, but nonetheless highly speculative).  As I agreed that eventually some minute and insignificant amount of cirgarette smoke would ineluctably enter my lungs, even if it was smoked far away from me, I argued that it was much more dangerous to our "health" and to individual rights to have a government that oppresses such an unenforceable and theoretical act of hazard, than it would be to allow smokers to continue smoking. 

It also seems that because so many cases can be made for--I guess I will call them "speculative rights infringements" that it would be absurd to try an enforce any of them---and if we did enforce them, we'd quickly end up with a dictatorship.

Anyhow, what I'm looking for are suggestions in how to refute these type of arguments--all help is appreciated.

The problem here is a small version of the problem of pollution.

Essentially what we have is a commons (the air) which a person is polluting.

The problem is the existence of the commons itself.

For instance it is obvious what pollution is when it involves land. If I own property and some company decides to dump all its waste in it (which will save money for the company by externalizing the cost) that is clearly an infringement of my property rights.

However with the air which is owned "in common" this becomes a problem. The property rights to the air haven't been clearly delineated.

A solution for corporations and individuals is to sell "pollution rights" which can then be traded. This should apply to auto emissions as well so however much your car pollutes you should own corresponding pollution rights.

For smoking then you probably need to own some rights in proportion to the amount you are going to smoke. After all you dont have the right to pollute someone else's property without compensating them.

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Is she in favour of banning all cars, factories, and sneezing?

Well that was my other attack as well---if you banned smoking you'd have to ban the industrial age. But making an analogy between sneezing, industrializing, and driving doesn't hold much merit since sneezing is an involuntary action, and industrializing and driving has the capability to produce or accomplish something useful, whereas in any case, smoking does not.

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Recently, my sister and I got into an argument regarding smoking.  At first, she said that smoking should be banned in all bars, private or public.  Then she went even further and said that because smoking is harmful, it should be completely prohibited, regardless if it's done in a private or public place--because those smoke molecules eventually enter into the lungs of those who do not wish to smoke, thus impinging upon their rights.

I am wondering how some of you argue against arguments of this type (i.e. ones that are highly speculative, theoretical, but nonetheless highly speculative).  As I agreed that eventually some minute and insignificant amount of cirgarette smoke would ineluctably enter my lungs, even if it was smoked far away from me, I argued that it was much more dangerous to our "health" and to individual rights to have a government that oppresses such an unenforceable and theoretical act of hazard, than it would be to allow smokers to continue smoking. 

It also seems that because so many cases can be made for--I guess I will call them "speculative rights infringements" that it would be absurd to try an enforce any of them---and if we did enforce them, we'd quickly end up with a dictatorship.

Anyhow, what I'm looking for are suggestions in how to refute these type of arguments--all help is appreciated.

My argument on smoking in "public" places is that it should be up to the individual bar or restaurant owner if they want to allow smoking on the property that they own. It’s no different from homeowners allowing visitors to their home to smoke or not. There is really no such thing as a public bar, all bars are privately owned. If you enter a bar that allows smoking, you know that there is a possibility that there will be people smoking there. If this is something that you don't think you can handle, don't go there.

As far as second hand smoke being a violation of your rights, I guess I would agree that it is. But how much compensation do you actually deserve if someone "pollutes" your lungs with second hand smoke? I would say, in the most extreme cases, the greatest compensation one is entitled is an apology from the smoker.

I that see you're from Boulder, which I believe was the first city in the country to ban smoking in bars and restaurants. I'm your neighbor to the east; I live in Broomfield :confused:. As a nonsmoker, I must say that when I used to go to concerts and frequent the bars, I loved going to Boulder because of the smoke free environment. But its not something that the fascist Boulder city council should be forcing on bar and restaurant owners.

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Well that was my other attack as well---if you banned smoking you'd have to ban the industrial age.  But making an analogy between sneezing, industrializing, and driving doesn't hold much merit since sneezing is an involuntary action, and industrializing and driving has the capability to produce or accomplish something useful, whereas in any case, smoking does not.

The argument fails because:

If these are really rights people are violating, why would they have the right to do it if it produced industrialization? Can rights be abrogated simply because what one views as a positive value is the end result? Should the state be able to butcher Christians because they spread the wrong philosophy, and some might view the end result as "something useful"?

And, does smoking not accomplish something useful in every case? What about someone calming their nerves after overtime at the office, or something other? Should a smoke only be allowed it the government bureaucrat defines a person is making a legitimate use of it? Does driving necessarily have to create air pollution?

The answer to your original question, is that to violate one's rights through pollution, one must be able to objectively prove a significant level of harm being caused. The fact that 1 part per billion of the air you breathe in is dissipated smoke does not constitute a health hazard. Secondly, when you agree to enter an establishment that has smoking customers, you agree to fill your lungs with whatever air is in the restaurant, so the only time you can file for damages is when you are being harmed on your own property (except for cases like where a bar owner maliciously pumps poisonous gas through his air vents--you didn't agree to that). Thirdly, I have discussed the evidence of second hand smoke in this post. I've heard that a report in the New England Journal of Medicine positively linked only four deaths in America in one year to second hand smoke.

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Recently, my sister and I got into an argument regarding smoking. At first, she said that smoking should be banned in all bars, private or public. Then she went even further and said that because smoking is harmful, it should be completely prohibited, regardless if it's done in a private or public place--because those smoke molecules eventually enter into the lungs of those who do not wish to smoke, thus impinging upon their rights.

Rights are freedoms the most fundamental of which is the right to life. This doesn't mean that I can make a demand of somebody walking down the street to give me medicine when I'm sick because I have a right to life. What it really means is that I have the freedom to act in a way that (provided I don't harm another in the process) I think sustains my life. If I think that smoking sustains my life then I may do so as long as I'm not harming another.

I agree with Punk that the main problem with smoking or any other type of "air pollution" is that property rights have not been defined nor given properly. We have a right to property because one must have physical means to sustain one's life (such as food and shelter and such). What this means is that I have the freedom to act in a way such that material things (property) can sustain my life as I see fit. There are many side issues to this but the one that we are most worried about here is that when something is determined to be mine then it is used as "I see fit." As banana-eater points out, the idea that smoking is harmful is very susceptible to doubt. Nobody has yet put forward an argument that proves that smoking is harmful at all. However, even if it were pure poison and death was all but guaranteed there should not be a law telling the owners of property how they are to use it. Such is a violation of property rights as it usurps the decision of the property owner as to what may or may not sustain his life. For this reason it should be left to the bar/restaraunt owner to decide if smoking is allowed or not.

When the government passes a law such as baning smoking, going along with what you seemed to give a start at, it is most definitely anti-life. A requirement of man's life is that he must act on his own independent judgment. This is the recognition of the fact that there is no collective consciousness. Everybody has their own brain so as to support their own self. By taking away the freedom (right) to act upon one's own mind is taking away a fundamental requirement for life. This leaves room for nothing but death.

The proper way to deal with "air pollution" is through the establishment of property rights. Basically it comes down to who was there first. Say there is a factory that puts out billowing smoke all day so that ash coats the land that is downwind from the factory. If the factory is there first and then somebody moves onto that land they do so with full knowledge of the fact that the factory spews ash on that land regularly and this gives the factory as established right to do so. However, if the factory is put in place second then the factory could not spew ash as it has been established that ash is not spewed downwind from it. Furthermore, even if it if were to be established second the owners of the downwind land would have to prove that they are harmed by the ash.

This also gives us insight into how smoking is dealt with in "common" areas. If somebody is smoking and then a non-smoker comes within range of his smoke he does so knowingly and the smoker has established his right to do so. However, even if the situation were reversed the non-smoker would have to prove that the smoke was harmful to him. Since nobody has yet to prove that cigarette smoke is harmful then even in public places smoking should always be allowed and one should never feel obligated to not smoke. I will say, though, that in the case where the smoker is second to arrive that it is not very courteous to do so even if it is morally and legally permissible if the non-smoker has made it clear that he prefers not to be around the smoke.

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these are really rights people are violating, why would they have the right to do it if it produced industrialization? Can rights be abrogated simply because what one views as a positive value is the end result? Should the state be able to butcher Christians because they spread the wrong philosophy, and some might view the end result as "something useful"?

And, does smoking not accomplish something useful in every case? What about someone calming their nerves after overtime at the office, or something other? Should a smoke only be allowed it the government bureaucrat defines a person is making a legitimate use of it? Does driving necessarily have to create air pollution?

Good points and refutations, never thought about some of those before :P.

Thanks for all the replies too--I think I now have a better idea of what's being argued.

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I wanted to add to my post a clarification of my position on smoking and its harmfulness. I think that smoking is harmful especially in large quantities. However, it is a logical flaw to say that smoking causes things such as lung cancer and other desises related to smoking. From what I've seen so far there is a correlation but no proof of causation.

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I think that smoking is harmful especially in large quantities. However, it is a logical flaw to say that smoking causes things such as lung cancer and other desises related to smoking. From what I've seen so far there is a correlation but no proof of causation.

I don't understand your position. The root of this seems to be the statement that correlation is not the same as causation -- an obvious statement, if taken strictly and literally. But correlation is evidence of causation: not absolute, universally probative evidence, to be sure, but evidence all the same. If you are objecting to an incomplete and imprecise description of the relation, that is fine but at the same time your own statement "smoking is harmful" is subject to the same criticism (how can smoking be harmful without causing[/a] harm?). The abstract act of "smoking" itself causes or results in no harm: but the physical manifestation of burning tobacco, paper and whatever chemicals cigarettes are laced with to keep them burning, drawing that burning material into your lungs whereupon these various gases and particles interact with the tissues in your lungs and are absorbed into your bloodstream -- that might be more accurately said to "cause harm". But even then, it doesn't, because the harm comes from when these chemicals bond to your cells, and even then the harm "really" comes from something else further down the chain of causation.

It would be more accurate to expound a long scientific treatise on the exact mechanism whereby smoking results in harm to your body, so that we could get at the "ultimate cause". But it's much simpler to say "smoking causes harm", and such harm can include cancer.

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Since nobody has yet to prove that cigarette smoke is harmful then even in public places smoking should always be allowed and one should never feel obligated to not smoke.

Huh???. I think those dying/dead from lung cancer as well as the scientists who have isolated carcinogens in cigarette smoke and shown its link to lung and heart disease would beg to differ. Plus, if it were not harmful, then we would not need this discussion because without harm, there could be no violation of rights.

I agree that property rights is an important factor in this discussion. Basically if you harm me, or damage my property, you are violating my rights.

Granting this, I see two other issues:

1) Does cigarette smoke constitute an instument of harm? Since I accept the evidence that smoking in general is harmful to the smoker's body, I am thinking more of degree and of impact on others: is it necessary to be smoking the cigarette yourself, or does second hand smoke suffice? Because if you must be smoking yourself to cause harm, again, there is no issue because nobody else's rights are being violated.

2) If smoke is harmful, then how do you handle it if it is "inflicted" on someone? Do you ban the smoke to begin with (the way we ban physical violence), or do you require an individual to go to court and sue the same way we handle property damages and personal injury? Is it analogous to physical assault, or is it like an accidental injury?

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I wanted to add to my post a clarification of my position on smoking and its harmfulness. I think that smoking is harmful especially in large quantities. However, it is a logical flaw to say that smoking causes things such as lung cancer and other desises related to smoking. From what I've seen so far there is a correlation but no proof of causation.

Noted. Thanks for the clarification.

But I disagree that no causal link has been found; I think that's just buying into cigarette company propaganda. It is not necessary to know every single biological link between chemicals to accept that one thing causes another. I don't know the exact sequence down to the molecular level in which a body shuts down after someone is shot in the head with a gun, but I am confident that this causes death. There is enough evidence at this point in history to say that there is a causal relation.

It's important to point out that the entire discussion of this topic in our society - in my opinion - has been skewed by the way it's handled in our courts. Personally, I think it's everyone's choice to smoke, and if it kills them, that's their decision. However, in typical fashion, today's legal proceedings ignore this personal responsibility and try to push the blame onto somone else, namely, the cigarette companies. Since they have been robbed of their only out, they must fall back on trying to deny the ligitimate scientific evidence, and trying to distort the issue by holding it to unreasonable standards of proof. The presence of so many smokers with lung cancer alone is sufficient evidence for me, let alone the supporting scientfic findings, such as the existence of known carcinogens in cigarette smoke.

I would categorize their claims as being similiar to those who attempt to discount objectivity by means of unreasonable standards of perfection, i.e. the claim that we cannot know everything, or cannot have "perfect" knowledge, or "absolute" knowledge, and therefore we cannot know anything at all. The problem is their unreasonable standard for what constitutes "proof", not the proof itself.

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And, does smoking not accomplish something useful in every case? What about someone calming their nerves after overtime at the office, or something other?

Actually, nicotine is a stimulant, so it's hard to say how it would calm nerves. I have heard smokers say this, and what I suspect is really being "calmed" is the body's craving for more nicotine. Although, admittedly, since I've only smoked 2 cigarettes in my life (both of which made me nauseous) I can't speak from experience. :nerd:

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Actually, nicotine is a stimulant, so it's hard to say how it would calm nerves. I have heard smokers say this, and what I suspect is really being "calmed" is the body's craving for more nicotine. Although, admittedly, since I've only smoked 2 cigarettes in my life (both of which made me nauseous) I can't speak from experience.  ^_^

The fact that nicotine is a central nervous system stimulant (via noradrenaline) does not necessarily negate its dopamine releasing effects, and the fact that it stimulates 5-hydroxy tryptophan release. Nicotine is primarily an agonist of one group of receptors (called nAChr's). They have a wide influence on an array of neurotransmitters. Or more clearly: Nicotine stimulates, relaxes, and produces a wide release of chemicals (to a lesser degree than most other drugs because of reuptaking, your body's control mechanism).

The hypothesis on why nicotine seems to be calming is because of noradrenaline (NA) receptor desensitization (meaning the receptor stops responding after chronic use). When someone feels very stressed, NA is usually released, but chronic smoking lessens that release.

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