Ever since Tucson's District 29 Representative Linda Lopez proposed a statewide smoking ban in restaurants and bars, Mark Brnovich has been steamed. Lopez and Brnovich, who's the director of the Goldwater Institute Center for Constitutional Government, have been duking it out in print ever since she and something called Arizonans Concerned About Smoking began touting what Lopez is calling a "workplace safety bill." She calls Brnovich's opposition "ludicrous and self-serving," but Brnovich just chuckles. And quotes Black Sabbath songs.
New Times: Who are Arizonans Concerned About Smoking?
Mark Brnovich: They're a group with designs on implementing a policy that would infringe on the rights of property owners by prohibiting smoking indoors in buildings, including bars and restaurants. One of the main people is Dr. Leland Fairbanks.
NT: Oh, him. The guy behind Prop 200, the Tempe anti-smoking drive a couple of years ago. I don't necessarily agree with his tactics, but I can see where a public smoking ban might be justified, in terms of the health benefits of cleaner air.
Brnovich: We have to be very careful any time we use health benefits to justify any sort of regulation that infringes on people's rights. Once you start down that slippery slope, you better start banning fast food, which can lead to obesity, and then it's, "My God, TV these days can have a detrimental impact on kids!" And the next thing you know they'll be trying to regulate what we watch on TV. What music we listen to. We've really got to be careful once we start imposing the majority's will on a group that doesn't have a lot of political clout, like smokers, under the guise of government doing it for our own good health.
NT: So you're less interested in an individual's right to smoke or a business owner's professional rights than you are in the broader definition of personal rights.
Brnovich: This smoking ban is a bad idea. It interferes with the free market. Consumers should be allowed to choose whether they want to go to smoking bars. The government should not be telling people how to live their lives. For me, it comes down to a property issue. We've lost the notion that property is a fundamental right and liberty, and we have to be very careful when we impose on people's property rights.
NT: What about workplace safety issues for employees -- the dangers of secondhand smoke?
Brnovich: I'm not sure that secondhand smoke causes some of the risks people attribute to it. A lot of the studies have been discredited. Even if [secondhand smoke was harmful], it should be up to the individual to make the choice to go into places where people are smoking.
NT: So the American Cancer Society, the American Lung Association and the American Heart Association are just wrong about secondhand smoke?
Brnovich: Without a doubt smoking causes lung cancer and is a bad thing. I don't smoke cigarettes, and I don't think anyone should, necessarily. But is there conclusive evidence that secondhand smoke causes lung cancer? I think there are a lot of studies used where, if you were to read the fine print, you would discover that the findings are statistically insignificant. Others show no link between secondhand smoke and lung disease. A lot of times, medicine gets politicized.
NT: But you're politicizing smoking to make your point, too.
Brnovich: Right. Mark Twain said, "There's lies, damn lies, and statistics." And I think there's a lot of data being thrown out about secondhand smoke, but nothing conclusive that proves that all these illnesses are associated with it. Even if there were some proof that it caused risk, I don't think that justifies infringing on people's property rights.
NT: But we both agree that secondhand smoke can't possibly be good for you.
Brnovich: You know, once again, being around smoke is about the rights of the individual. I have really bad allergies and my neighbors have olive trees that drive me crazy. I know people who wear too much cologne. No one would think of asking his neighbor to cut down his trees or prohibiting people from wearing too much cologne.
NT: I would. Too much cologne is just wrong.
Brnovich: But we've got to be really careful when the government wants to start saying what's annoying to some people, when people are perfectly capable of making that choice for themselves. If it annoys you, go someplace else.
NT: Our Constitution and Bill of Rights contain stipulations for the protection of property rights. Maybe Representative Lopez hasn't read the Constitution.
Brnovich: I don't know her, but I think this smoking ban is the product of social engineering. What it's designed to do is regulate people in their lives, and unfortunately, I think we've lost the ability to realize what our rights are.
NT: Bar and restaurant owners can't be happy about this. Look what happened in Tempe.
Brnovich: The proponents want to make this anti-smoking ban statewide because they believe that misery loves company. One thing we hear about the Tempe bars that have had to close their doors is that they were marginal operators, and would have gone out of business anyway. But national chains, like the Dirty Drummer and Clicks Billiards, are also shutting down. The anti-smoking people say that it's unhealthy for people to work in a smoke-filled environment, so it's good that people are losing these jobs. But what do you tell the single mother who's waiting tables in a bar and has health insurance for herself and her kid? Even if you create a method where you get rid of the smoke, like by using Smoke-Eaters, it wouldn't matter. This movement is about keeping people from smoking, and not about their well-being or their health.
NT: Smoke-Eaters? Come on. Is that really an answer? That's not going to remove carcinogens from the air.
Brnovich: If it's eating the smoke and recirculating fresh air from outside, it would address those concerns. My point is that that's something that the bar owners are doing for their customers and employees to mitigate the smell of smoke or whatever, but it's the customers' or employees' choice to go in there in the first place.
NT: Lopez calls your position "self-serving."
Brnovich: People began impugning my motives as soon as I began addressing this issue. I've had e-mails attacking me personally, that I want to destroy the health of all children. In some ways it's surprising, because mine is a philosophical stand. It's all about individual responsibility, limited government and economic freedom.
NT: Maybe. But Lopez has big guns behind her: Representatives for the Arizona chapters of the American Cancer Society, American Lung Association and American Heart Association have agreed to support her. Can she get lawmakers to roll over on bar and restaurant owners?
Brnovich: I don't know. I don't really hang out at the Legislature, so I don't know what they're thinking. To quote Mark Twain again, "You shouldn't watch sausage and legislation being made." So I don't know what's going to happen down there. But I do think that one of the great traditions of Arizona is our rugged individualism. People here are skeptical that government can provide all the answers.
NT: Not just here.
Brnovich: Right, but I think we have that spirit and hopefully there are enough people in the Legislature or even in the Governor's Office that will say, "This isn't something we need to be involved with. Let's let adults make their own decisions."
NT: The Arizona Republic reported last month that 73 percent of Arizonans would support a smoking ban.
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Brnovich: How does that Black Sabbath song go? "When you leave it to fools, the mob rules"?
NT: Mark Twain and Black Sabbath! You are a Renaissance man!
Brnovich: Now I'm gonna get even more hate mail. I'm not endorsing any brand of music or criticizing it, for the record. But what I'm saying is this: Just because the majority wants something doesn't make it right.