As the smoking ban marches on here in Charleston, South Carolina, as have similar bans across the country, anti-smoking activists have been able to implement such legislation by claiming they have science on their side. By convincing a significant portion of the population that secondhand smoke is not merely annoying, but a serious health risk, anti-smoking activists have been victorious, while business owners have been forced to bear the cost of lost rights and revenue. This is a shame, because gutting the primary argument of smoking ban proponents from the get-go - the health argument - might have produced an entirely different outcome.

When former Surgeon General Richard Carmona declared in 2006 that "the debate was over" and that "even brief exposure to secondhand smoke... creates a serious health hazard," his report was taken as the gospel by millions of Americans and was used to justify countless smoking bans nationwide.

But reading the Surgeon General's report will reveal that it is more politics than science. Writes Reason Magazine Editor Jacob Sullum, "Carmona is so intent on promoting smoking bans... that he absurdly exaggerates the hazards of secondhand smoke. (Carmona's) insistence that there is 'no risk-free level' is an article of faith, not a scientific statement." Dr. Elizabeth Whelan, President of The American Council on Science and Health seconds Sullum's assessment, adding "what is most alarming here is that the top doctor in the land is communicating a message that anything that is harmful at a high dose can be lethal at a low dose - when that is simply not true."

And you don't have to be a rocket scientist - or a scientist, period - to recognize the basic illogic of the secondhand smoke argument. When the average American hears of some strange, new scientific finding - like chocolate being good for you, obesity being "contagious" or the benefits of alcohol consumption - reasonable people don't automatically begin binging on Hershey's, quarantining fat people or chugging Jack Daniels to stay healthy.

Our experience with each dictates a common sense approach, and this week's health benefit might be next week's health detriment depending on the study or the scientist. For example, some studies have shown that Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease, prostate and colon cancer and osteoarthritis are 50% less likely to afflict smokers than non-smokers.

Does this mean we should all light up? Of course not.

Likewise, does anyone truly believe being exposed to secondhand smoke in brief intervals remotely poses the health risks associated with a pack-a-day smoker, who inhales his poison directly from the source? On every issue but secondhand smoke, reasonable people form opinions based on the obvious, everyday evidence, despite each, new scientific breakthrough, which are as frequent as they are contradictory. When it comes to smoking bans, the truth is there are plenty of people who understandably don't like smoking. Recognizing the passion of this sizable and willing audience, anti-smoking advocates have been able to transform popular prejudice into political victory with ease.

This is not the first time the combination of government authority and questionable science has been used as a force to dictate societal change. The 1936 cult classic film "Reefer Madness" and the lesser known "Assassin of Youth" were propaganda films designed to imply marijuana use led to everything from juvenile delinquency to murder, rape and suicide. "Assassin of Youth" was a phrase used by then drug czar Harry J. Anslinger who sponsored the 1937 Marihuana Act, which eventually led to the criminalization of cannabis. Until 1973, the American Psychiatric Association designated homosexuality as a disorder. Many argue today that the designation was changed for political reasons, while others maintain that it existed for political reasons. Either way, to suggest that science is above politics is to ignore history.

Ironically, today support for smoking bans remains very high amongst white, urban progressives. The same people who scream bloody murder over the suppression of marijuana or homosexuals, now seem more than happy to suppress smokers, citing the "right to breathe clean air." It's funny, in the U.S. Constitution one cannot find the "right to breathe clean air," nor will you find smokers' rights, marijuana rights, health care rights, gay rights, animal rights, illegal alien rights or any of the other rights that are invented daily.

But you will find property rights. In fact, the Founding Fathers considered the right to own property the very basis of freedom. A notion today's bar and restaurant owners can likely attest to, as they continue to watch their most basic, American right go up in smoke.