No More Half-Measures: Let’s Ban Smoking in Pennsylvania

Rep. Dom Costa wants to ban smoking in cars. He doesn't go far enough.


Dom Costa is a wimp.

The state representative from Allegheny has introduced a bill that would ban Pennsylvanians from smoking while driving — as long as a child under the age of 12 is in the car with them. Get caught? You’re fined $250.

“Second-hand smoke poses a series of serious health risks to individuals,” Costa says, “and children are among the most vulnerable because they are still developing physically, have higher breathing rates than adults, and have little control over their indoor environments.”

He’s right. It’s unfair — evil, even — to poison children as the byproduct of a hobby. So it’s time to go a few steps further than Costa is proposing.

It’s time to ban tobacco smoking in Pennsylvania, now and forever.

Full disclosure: I’ve smoked pipes, cigars, and even a few cigarettes in my day. Enjoyed them all. So if you want to nail me for being one of those joyless hypocritical nanny-staters, go right ahead.

What nobody can seriously dispute anymore is this: Smoking maims and kills you. And it can needlessly expose other non-smokers to cancer-causing poisons, potentially subjecting them to misery and astoundingly high hospital bills. Nobody pretends otherwise, not even the tobacco companies themselves: After a mocking John Oliver segment this week, Philip Morris International released a statement that offered this defense: “We take seriously the responsibility that comes with selling a product that is an adult choice and is harmful to health.”

Even cigarette makers agree: Smoking hurts you. Cigarettes are just rat poison sundaes with a hipper marketing campaign.

Let’s pretend that using rat poison as a dessert topping suddenly became a fad. (This is actually an unfair analogy to rat poison — which, after all, does have the usefulness of poisoning rats.) Would we just stand around and offer bromides about freedom while Uncle Phil covered his ice cream in death pellets? Or would we intervene? Might we even, if the problem were persistent enough, shut down the ice cream stand where he purchased his Rat Poison Sundaes? We would, especially if Uncle Phil was letting his nephew Jimmy take bites from the sundae.

So why let smoking continue?

There’s been a major reduction in smoking over the last half-century, the result of a fierce education campaign, but also a never-ending series of half-measures. We didn’t ban cigarette advertising — we just banned it on TV. Then we banned using characters like the Marlboro Man and Joe Camel. Smoke disappeared from flights. Then bars. Then — of all places — public parks. As a result, smoking has dipped to an all-time low among American adults: Less than 18 percent of us light up anymore.

Half-measures were appropriate to getting us here — having all of society quit Cold Turkey during the Cold War might’ve ended with a war against the Russians, just to calm our jittery nerves. But the problem with half-measures is that you never, ever get more than halfway to the goal in any single step. You never quite get all the way there.

So if we’re now at the point where we will consider telling people they can’t smoke in their own property — their car, per Costa’s wishes — we might as well push all the way to the logical end point. Kids can also be exposed to secondhand smoke in houses, apartments, their front stoops. It’s time to ban the sale and production of tobacco smoking products in the state of Pennsylvania.

Otherwise, it’s time to call a truce. If smoking is a matter of freedom, let people do it on their own time, and their own property. But no more half-measures. The time for the incremental approach is over.

Follow @JoelMMathis on Twitter.