Do you own yourself?
Who owns your body? Are you free to choose what you eat or what car you drive? Do you get to pick where you live, the clothes you wear, what you do for fun? When you are deciding which job to apply for, do you have the right to work on oil rigs or become an accountant?
For the vast majority of us, the answer to those questions is a resounding yes, and even posing it will cause some to scratch their heads. The freedom to make choices that impact an individual’s private life, for better or worse, is ingrained in the fabric of our society.
Unfortunately, fear, isolation, partisanship and ignorance are slowly eating away at our ability to make choices for ourselves and our families. When people don’t understand the choices of another person, many are fearful and try to prohibit that activity, even if it has absolutely no impact on their own lives. Paradoxically, many of the most dangerous behaviors people participate in are accepted as indispensable parts of our day-to-day lives — such as driving vehicles or consuming fast food.
I was not surprised to see the recent rise of unfortunate vaping illnesses spark fear and confusion in so many well-meaning people. That public response has prompted politicians to use the force of government to try to enact severe restrictions on the sale of flavored vape cartridges and e-cigarettes.
In response to the outbreak — which has been blamed for at least 26 deaths and roughly 1,300 cases of lung injuries in the U.S. — numbers of municipalities have banned the products. Massachusetts recently approved a four-month ban on all vaping products. Governors such as Washington’s Jay Inslee and Rhode Island’s Gina Raimondo signed executive orders outlawing sales of the devices and cartridges. Even large cities, including San Francisco, have prohibited sales.
As the fear spreads, Wyoming is not immune from the movement. In August, Cheyenne’s City Council took the first steps toward banning vaping products in the community. On an 8-1 vote, the council approved a measure that adds electronic smoking devices to an existing ban on cigarettes, cigars and other smoking activities in certain parts of the city.
This is exactly the wrong response. As Wyoming moves forward and tries to diversify our economy, banning the products people can buy or sell will only harm our communities. In Riverton alone, we have three stores that any kind of vape ban would greatly harm.
The growth in the size, scope and wealth of government has made it increasingly easy to restrict the choices of individuals. With that heightened power and force, restrictions on peaceful, law-abiding residents have become more efficient. In many cases, the general public is unaware that their rights have been eroded.
When compared side-by-side, vaping is less dangerous than daily activities like driving, poor eating habits, or even walking up and down stairs. Data and evidence are clearly not behind the push for prohibition. Instead, fear and misunderstandings, reinforced by Big Tobacco, have led to an outcry for more intrusive government intervention designed to take away choice from peaceful adults.
For many, vaping seems like an insignificant choice — one that most people will pay little attention to when the government steps in to regulate it. In order to see the broader implications of what this restriction of choice means, try substituting vaping with an activity or political hot topic that is more important to you. Unfortunately, almost everything we do runs counter to someone else’s preferences or interests. Leash rules, landscaping regulations and small-business operating codes, for example, are often the subjects of disagreement. The result is that restrictions are routinely implemented.
When an individual witnesses something that doesn’t fit into his or her worldview, it may seem like a sound solution to get a group of like-minded people together, pass around petitions, call legislators and get laws enacted. But those laws regulate the choices of someone else.
What does it look like when the freedom to choose is restricted by government? The short answer is black markets and violence. Look no further than the illegal drug trade.
However, the implications can be much larger and more dangerous for society as a whole. While one group is working on restricting the rights of pet owners, someone a few blocks away may very well be working to restrict the rights of gardeners or small-business entrepreneurs. Instead of respecting individual choices and embracing a peaceful “live and let live” attitude, society is increasingly obsessed with forcing others to live lives the way we want them to be lived.
When fearful of something you don’t understand, consider resisting the urge to legislate. Restrictions can happen quickly and are difficult to remove. Be aware of what is going on around you. Discuss and debate with people who do not share your view. Educate yourself. Get involved with your local city council and state legislators, and speak out for the rights of the individual at every opportunity.
Join me, a nonsmoker/nonvaper, in defending the rights of all Wyomingites.
Libertarian Bethany Baldes is a community activist, wife and mother of three who has resided in Riverton, Wyoming, her entire life. The views expressed here are solely her own.