Personal freedom is extremely important, but as a society, we already accept the notion that you gain freedom as a society at the cost of some measure of personal freedom. What is important is where you want the balance, because there will always be one.
For example, we have financial freedom at the expense of giving bank robbers the freedom to rob everyone else of their hard-earned cash.
The question then boils down to this. Is the society's gain in freedom from smoking worth the price of the individual's freedom? This is a very different question than usually gets asked, as it's not a case of freedom vs. no freedom, but rather a case of whos freedom is of greater worth.
This is not a trivial question. As McVeigh found out, Americans are -very- divided over where personal freedom ends, and society's freedom begins. This is a hot issue, and always has been. (Indeed, most of the "fringe" groups are simply people who have weighted one side or the other, in advance.)
Now we get to my -personal- opinion. There is some evidence that secondary smoking is hazardous to people's health. Further, there is some evidence that some corporations have, in the past, tampered with their products in order to make them artificially much more addictive.
Let's take that second case first. The selling of one product under the pretense that it is something else seems a clear-cut infringement on society's freedom to choose. Any argument that the corporation has freedom to sell what it likes is pushing things. If you went to a restraunt and ordered a green salad, but got a live squid instead, you'd probably tell that restraunt where it could put it's personal freedom. The customer's right to choose supercedes any right the company has to choose what to give. (Microsoft excepted.)
Ok, now onto that first case, where claims indicate that secondary smoke is harmful. Certainly, it makes a lot of sense that toxins that exist in the smoke breathed in are going to be in all the other smoke, too. There's not a whole lot to prevent them being there. But is the concentration high enough to be harmful?
There is no clear-cut answer to this one, IMHO. Some chemicals are harmful at ANY concentration. Others are harmful, if a given concentration is exceeded at any given time. Yet others, it's not the concentration, it's the lifetime exposure that matters. Some chemicals will be removed by the body, quickly. Others will be retained for significant periods of time. Arguing the hazard level is going to be fraught with complications.
Conclusions? Until the hazard level of secondary smoke can be determined, it should be treated like any other potential hazard -- you don't expose those who can't avoid any harm there might be. Beyond that, it would be difficult to justify any bans or restrictions beyond those that already exist.
IMHO, the smokers aren't the problem, anyway. The problems that need to be addressed are:
- WHY people start smoking. (Let's face it - breathing hot ash and road surface scrapings sounds as appealing as bungi jumping down Mt Vesuvius. On the other hand, toxic stress and emotional strain can make almost anything sound appealing.)
- WHETHER manufacturers have, at some point, given a fraudulant product. (If you didn't get what you thought you bought, then was your purchase YOUR choice??)
- WHETHER manufacturers have targetted emotionally-vulnerable groups. (Excuse me, but you can "sell" anything to someone who is technically incompetent to make the decision to buy, whether or not they're legally considered competent.)
- WHETHER manufacturers have falsified, directly or indirectly, any of their data on their products. (Filters that magically only filter during tests can definitely be considered suspect.)
You notice that smokers only appear once in the list, and that's ONLY to seperate those who made a rational choice from those incapable of doing so. All the rest are suspected and alleged malpractices by manufacturers.
IMHO, if the malpractices were absolutely clamped-down on, and any/all consumer protection laws were actually enforced for once, the risks to smokers and non-smokers would be greatly reduced and/or people would actually know what those risks really were.
IMHO, this (for now) would be sufficient. Once the facts are known, and once the market has adjusted for the presence of a bit of honesty, those who continued to smoke, or chose to start, should be at liberty to do so, provided it did not impinge on the liberties of non-smokers to avoid the smoke.
There should not be a war between the smokers and non-smokers. If there should be a war at all, it should be truth vs untruth, with smokers and non-smokers alike arguing for the cause of truth.