Friday, August 29, 2008

Smoking Bans Are Bad for America's Health

Main points:
  • The dangers of smoking and second-hand smoke is scientifically established, however
  • Smoking bans are an infringement on property rights
  • Consumers possess economic clout to combat public smoking
  • Smoking bans open the door for further, more extreme breaches of Constitutional Rights
In light of a consistent stream of research citing the dangers of second-hand tobacco smoke, public smoking bans are seeming to become increasingly popular. I live in a town that passed a ban on public smoking last year. The city ordinance was written as follows...

a. Smoking is prohibited in all bars, city operated facilities, recreation facilities, restaurants, amusement places, bed and breakfasts...

The debate leading up to the decision was extensive and passionate. The public record for the city meeting leading up to the decision is much more interesting than public records usually are. The arguments in favor of the ban were varied and compelling, as seen in these excerpts from the record.

Tom Mayer... works at the lung health clinic. He tests people who have been exposed to second-hand smoke. He has to talk to people who are experiencing health problems due to a smoking environment.
Nicole Stevens... worked two years in a smoking area of a restaurant. She did not have a choice since she needed a job. She asked that smoking be banned.
Fred Peterson... said he is tired of paying for smoker’s diseases. His father, step-father and mother died of smoke related diseases. One-half hour of smoke exposure affects us.
Sarah Shelton stated this is an opportunity for Kirksville to become a pioneer city by passing an ordinance to ban smoking.
Alana DeCooyer... stated it is her right to go into a business without there being smoke there. She does not go into those businesses that allow smoking. Kirksville should set a standard by banning smoking here.

The arguments demonstrate the fact that smoking is indeed dangerous and has had a devastating history of damage. They certainly demonstrate an intellectual progress in that the majority of the participants in the public hearing recognized the dangers of smoking and wanted to halt its destructive effects.

However, was a ban on smoking in public buildings the best course of action to combat smoking? Consider two more excerpts from the record.

Brenda Sewell, owns Uptown Café, presented a petition signed that says business owners should have the right to choose. She said that 80% of her patrons are smokers.
Jan Collins, Washington Street Java, said that her business became smoke free in 2001, and she believes their business has grown.

First of all, let's consider two opposing claims from the record. From the final excerpt from the Pro-Ban group, a citizen claims that she has the "right to to go into a business without there being smoke there." Yet, the owner of the Uptown Cafe states that "business owners should have the right to choose" whether smoking is allowed on the premises.

Whose right is it to determine whether smoking is allowed on a property- the owner of the property or the visitor to the property? I believe that most of us would agree that this is a property right of the owner. Traditionally, the owner of a property determines its use. In addition, many of us agree that it is a constitutional right. It is implicit in the "Nor shall private property be taken for public use" phrase of the Fifth Amendment.

This is not to say that the citizens of Kirksville were obligated to enter smoke-filled public buildings. They still had a right- not the right to "go into a business without smoke being there"- but the right to choose not to go into buildings where smoking is taking place. No one forced them to eat in smoky restaurants- they ate there for reasons of convenience.

This doesn't mean that Kirksville citizens had no say in the use of private buildings. Actually, they had available a means of promoting non-smoking businesses just as profound as the city-wide ban would be. They had an economic vote.

All it would take to bring non-smoking businesses to Kirksville would be for the non-smokers to quit patronizing smoking establishments. The non-smoking establishments like the above-noted Washington Street Java would bloom with such action. Those businesses that continued to allow smoking would be forced to consider prohibiting smoking in their establishment or face the consequences of a smaller customer base.

Within a short amount of time, the policies of businesses would be proportionate to the tastes of the consumers. There would be adequate businesses to accommodate both smokers and non-smokers.

Consider the two votes that Kirksville citizens had. They had a democratic vote, one in which they could compel an entire populace to accommodate to the preferences of the majority. The use of this vote was an attractive option- with it they could significantly decrease public smoking in a single stroke. They also had an economic vote- one in which the local economy would respond to the tastes of its citizens.

Note that by using a democratic vote to establish a smoking ban a precedent would be set. Property rights would be infringed upon by a majority wielding "scientific data" showing harm- a majority enforcing what they felt was "right" and "healthy." But once these rights are infringed, they are forever in jeopardy to the next data-wielding majority who believes they are promoting something "right" or "healthy."

Think of the possibilities-a majority of the population with data showing that organized religion promotes depression, or conversely a religious majority determined to shut down businesses on Sundays. How about a health conscious majority forcing restaurants to serve vegetables with every meal? The action solely depends on a majority view and a rationale.

So even though we understand why Kirksville residents adopted a smoking ban, we must insist that it was bad- bad for the health of America. Freedom, even if it is the freedom to allow smoking in your business, must be preserved. Freedom must encompass the power to choose the wrong. By protecting this freedom, we preserve the power to do right.

Rusty Scalpel

(A final point to consider: how did the smoking ban affect businesses that had already prohibited smoking on their premises. Did they benefit from the ban?)

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Reader Recommendation: AAPS

A couple of alert readers have now recommended the website of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons. The organization claims to be "...Dedicated to the highest ethical standards of the Oath of Hippocrates and to preserving the sanctity of the patient-physician relationship and the practice of private medicine."

That's certainly something we support here. We like what we see from them- their work seems informed, well-written, and generally in agreement with what we think here. Take a look and let us know what you think.

Rusty Scalpel

Saturday, August 16, 2008

A Little Autism Means Big Money

Reviewed: "New Ways to Diagnose Autism Earlier" by Jeremy Singer-Vine of the Wall Street Journal and "Autism Cures" a critique of the Singer-Vine article by Thomas Sowell.

Pertinent Points from "New Ways to Diagnose Autism Earlier":

  • New diagnostic methods indicate whether children under 30 months old may be at risk for autism.
  • "At-risk" children can begin early behavioral treatment. Pre-school treatment is shown to be more successful in raising IQ and improving language in autistic children than later treatment.
  • New methods provide "useful clues" as to whether the child may have autism. The author notes that "there is something about a clinician that adds to the predictive value."
  • Early intervention may be expensive, but if successful, may decrease overall spending on treatment of autism.
  • "Just eight states have passed bills mandating coverage by private insurers for autism and related disorders." The author notes that 27 other states are working on autism initiatives.

Pertinent Points from "Autism Cures"

  • An "Autism spectrum" allows for easy false diagnosis based on a range of autism symptoms.
  • Parents that allow children to be diagnosed as autistic can receive funding for desired therapies such as speech therapy. This encourages diagnosis of autism even when the existence of that condition may be questionable.
  • False positive diagnosis of early autism makes "curing" the disease easy work and generates false data about cure rates.
  • False positive diagnosis diverts money from truly autistic patients that need treatment.

The implications:

Of course FMP has no problem with parents electing to utilize non-definitive early diagnosis methods and expensive early treatment if they so desire. The problem comes when these elective procedures become the public burden.

For evidence that it is becoming the public burdern, note two excerpts from the Autism Votes website, an activist site dedicated to support bills benefiting autistic patients. These excerpts are two of many such notices.

1)(Baton Rouge, LA - July 2, 2008) Today, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal signed House Bill 958, the autism insurance reform bill passed last month by the state legislature, into law. The new law will require health insurance coverage for the diagnosis and treatment of autism disorders in patients under age 17. Benefits are capped at $36,000 per year and $144,000 per lifetime.

2)NEW YORK, NY (July 9, 2008) -- Autism Speaks today commended Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell for signing into law the most comprehensive autism insurance bill in the nation. The new law provides $36,000 a year for Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) and other necessary treatments, and goes beyond many state insurance reform measures by mandating coverage up to age 21 with no lifetime cap. It also creates, for the first time under Pennsylvania law, an expedited appeals procedure for denied claims as a safeguard to ensure compliance by insurance providers. Private insurers will be required to provide coverage beginning in July 2009.

We can't help but wonder how this mandating of particular coverages on the insurance industry is affecting health insurance premiums. Health insurance isn't a charity program. Every time coverage expands the price of premiums must go up. These diagnostic and treatment procedures certainly have a place. But, should the government mandate non-conclusive, early-diagnostic procedures for autism and similar procedures for other illnesses?

Especially in these financially questionable practices, parents and doctors must be the decision makers- not the government. Efforts by the government to enforce a standard of care on the health insurance industry and on taxpayers can only make health care more expensive and less acessible to Americans.

Rusty Scalpel

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

The Most Important Constitutional Right

And Health Care's Threat to It
Part I

Of all the rights guaranteed in the US Constitution, which is the most important? Is it a free-speech right, a right to religious observance, or right to vote?

We would hold that the most important of all constitutional rights is the right to hold property. The Fifth Amendment states that "No person... be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation."

Property is the exclusive right to possess, enjoy, and dispose of a thing (as defined by Webster). Included in this definition of property could be land, money, commodities, and assets.

Contrary to opponents' inferences, it is not for reasons of greed or to gain dominion over other men that we so cherish this right to property. It is because without property rights, all other God-given, constitutional rights are placed in jeopardy. Consider, for example, how deprivation of property effects the first four of the Bill of Rights:

Amendment 1- The establishment of religion, freedom of the press, etc.: How is religion to be established without private funds and lands dedicated for buildings, publications, support of ministry, etc.? Where are tithes and other contributions without private property? Without private property, churches are established and administered by state funds and state discretion. Also, what happens to freedom of the press without private ownership and thus private discretion for what is printed?

Amendment 2- The right to bear arms: What happens to the private, personal right to bear arms if we are not permitted to own arms? Also, without private property, what are we protecting with those arms?

Amendment 3- "No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner..." is literally obsolete without property rights.

Amendment 4- "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures..." is also literally obsolete without property rights. What houses, papers, and effects are in danger of search and seizure if we own no property?

As John Adams said at the signing of the constitution "'property must be secured or liberty cannot exist.'"

Property is the means by which all other liberties are exercised. With property we are able to support our families and thus maintain independence from the government. In addition, with property we have a constant economic vote. We are able to support those causes and institutions that we find beneficial, good, and just.

What happens then, when this right to property is abridged? What are the consequences?

With a loss of property rights to the state, citizens become dependent on the state and the state becomes a custodian and guardian to its citizens. The state begins to wield an economic vote. It begins to apply moral values to determine which causes and institutions to support. Property-less citizens find themselves not only wards of the state, but find that they have unwittingly surrendered their other rights as well.

Sadly, this doesn't sound too different from our current situation...

To Be Continued

Rusty Scalpel