SMOKE/FOOD POLICE AND CITIZEN SNITCHES
Posted 1:00 AM Eastern
Puffing on a cigarette in the city of Omaha just got riskier. While smoking ban ordinances and laws are popping up all across the United States from New York City to Los Angeles, Omaha passed the toughest -- some say the most intrusive -- smoking ban in the nation.
Not only are smokers being targeted by police officers, but the mayor, the city government and the police are encouraging citizens to snitch out their neighbors who may light up in, what officials call, "forbidden zones."
Critics say this latest antismoking strategy is reminiscent of the Stalinists who encouraged family and friends to inform on one another to the KGB.
The Omaha City Council banned smoking in most public places in the beginning of October. The city ordinance calls for fines of $100 for the first offense, with fines up to $500 for repeat offenders.
But not all government officials are happy about the police involvement in regulating smokers and turning them into smoke criminals. Douglas County Emergency Services Director Mark Conrey takes issue with city official's encouraging smoking snitches to call 911 when they "suspect someone is smoking illegally."
Conrey said that the enforcement of the ban threatens to disrupt the county's 911 call system, which is supposed to be used for life-threatening emergencies.
However, the Omaha police department insisted residents should use 9-1-1 to report smoking law violators. The ban affects 97 percent of all Omaha businesses immediately and provides a five-year moratorium on enforcement across the board.
One political observer believes this is just one of many new laws coming down the pike that restricts citizens' personal decision-making. According to GOP political analyst Mike Baker, the law is designed to have citizens grow accustomed to "informing on one another," and "if a child is angry with his parents for not getting his way, to get even with them when smoking."
"This new law is the beginning of a move to increase police manpower, bring more cash into the city coffers and help lawyers drum up new business," said Baker.
"Under the guise of concern for the health of smokers and nonsmokers, the real concern is the health of the city's and lawyers' bank accounts," and "a guarantee of steady paychecks for police officers" he added.
As one state government after another increases taxes on cigarettes, while decreasing smokers ability to enjoy their cigars and cigarettes, organized crime and terrorist groups are now involved in a lucrative black market cigarette scheme.
For instance, In Michigan, Youssef Aoun Bakri, 36, pleaded guilty in federal court to charges he and other conspirators were operating a criminal enterprise to traffic in contraband cigarettes and producing counterfeit cigarette tax stamps, as well as laundering money derived from their illegal activity.
Most troubling was the fact that some of the profits made from the illegal enterprise were given to Hezbollah, a designated foreign terrorist organization, according to the grand jury indictment.
In California, a ballot initiative scheduled to appear during the November elections -- Proposition 86 -- proposes making California smokers the highest taxed in the country. While many politicians appear keen on the idea, law enforcement officers in large numbers oppose Prop 86.
The "No on Prop 86" campaign announced that more than 20 law enforcement groups oppose Proposition 86 due to concerns over the negative impacts the proposed 300 percent tax increase on cigarettes would have on crime and cigarette smuggling.
Cops in other states are also concerned about the punitive cigarette taxes levied by state governments that are creating new and lucrative criminal enterprises as well as criminalizing bargain hunting by smokers.
Critics of smoking bans are disappointed that citizen groups, churches and civil liberties organizations have remained silent on Omaha's new law which actually criminalizes what was once legal citizen conduct.
Although supporters of smoking bans dismiss the slippery-slope paradigm, recent events in New York City appear to validate concerns of many Americans. Not satisfied with merely banning cigarettes, the Big Apple's Mayor Michael Bloomberg is now attempting to ban trans fats from foods consumed by New Yorkers and visitors.
According to the New York Department of Health, restaurants, hotels and fast-food establishments will have six months to switch from trans fats to alternative cooking oils. Many suspect this is only the first step in a government dictating citizens' diets under the guise of healthcare concerns. Meanwhile, critics estimate the city will gain millions of dollars once businesses are fined for violating the trans fat ban.
Some believe that if this is not stopped, "tomorrow the government will attack liqueur and junk food such as beer, wine, potato chips and twinkies. While genetically modified vegetables, grains, meat and milk from cloned cows, irradiated meats, etc." are protected. [See DVD "Future of Food"]
Mike Baker believes that the lack of interest in protesting such laws stems from the belief that smoking or eating certain foods are unhealthy, and "people are willing to allow local governments to use de facto Stalinist tactics to curtail this undesirable behavior."
a smoker in Omaha, dial 9-1-1
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Some believe that if this is not stopped, "tomorrow the government will attack liqueur and junk food such as beer, wine, potato chips and twinkies. While foods that are genetically modified such as grains, meat and milk from cloned cows, irradiated meats, etc." are protected.