As one who has recently found himself in a position in which smoking was a free choice only to the extent that breathing was a free choice, I take exception to Jacob Sullum's argument ("The Rule of Lawton," Aug./Sept.) that "it doesn't matter that smoking is a free choice." Being a passive smoker has made me unable to sleep on transatlantic flights when I really needed the sleep. And flight attendants and waitpersons (I can't believe I used that word!) often have the far-from-easy choice of choosing between breathing or eating when their work requires passage through smoking sections.
Smoking is more of a health hazard than generally believed because many of the studies of its dangers calculate the relative health of active smokers versus passive smokers and express the results as if they were differences between the health of smokers and nonsmokers. There aren't many nonsmokers around, although I, for one, would love to be one.
Marshall E. Deutsch
Mr. Sullum replies: I am a bit confused by the beginning of Mr. Deutsch's letter, since I did not argue that "it doesn't matter that smoking is a free choice." On the contrary, I took issue with a product-liability law that seems to be based, in part, on that assumption. Space does not allow a discussion of the evidence concerning the health effects of secondhand smoke. Suffice it to say that I do not find the evidence as convincing as Mr. Deutsch does. But even if we accept the idea that secondhand smoke is a health hazard, the risks involved are trivial. For example, the EPA estimates that being married to a smoker raises a woman's risk of getting lung cancer by 19 percent. That is a small increase in a very small risk; an insignificant concern for someone who lives with a smoker for many years, let alone someone exposed to secondhand smoke on an airplane or in a restaurant. Of course, Mr. Deutsch may worry about possible health risks even when they are infinitesimal, and he may in any case be annoyed by tobacco smoke (as I sometimes am). Those are things he should consider before patronizing an airline or a restaurant that allows smoking. If he nevertheless chooses to fly on an airplane or eat in a restaurant where smoking is permitted, he has consented to exposure. To say that choices have consequences is not to say that choices do not exist.