Cigarettes and Peanuts: A Deadly Duo

Some people in the UK are pushing for a ban on nuts in public, which will no doubt prompt half of you to leave "guess you won't be allowed outside!" messages on my Facebook page.

A recent BBC article said that some people are pushing for the ban in public areas, like at work, on airplanes, and in some restaurants. The concern is that because some people have allergies to nuts, especially peanuts, they might have a reaction to contaminants in the air or in their food.

For example, many airline flights no longer serve peanuts because the peanut dust might get in the air, which is recirculated, but apparently not filtered. In restaurants, some people have to alert the servers to their nut allergy so the kitchen staff won't prepare their food on a surface that previously came into contact with peanuts.

Others wonder whether this isn't just some overreaction by the peanut protestors, or could become one more example of Britain's nanny state banning any activity because someone somewhere might possibly be slightly injured.

Remember, this is the island of raging overreaction. The place where a city council once banned firefighters from using a ladder to decorate their Christmas trees because they might fall. The place where an entire elementary school banned chocolate because one kid was allergic to it.

Look, these people didn't ban smoking in public places until July 1, 2007, even though everyone fully understands that smoking is bad for you. Yet they're rattling on about the dangers of peanuts to a very tiny minority of people.

Never mind that people have been clamoring for smoke-free workplaces for decades, because cancer. Never mind the mountains of evidence that piled up about the dangers of smoking. Never mind that smoking leads to emphysema, heart disease, and even colon cancer (although if you get colon cancer from smoking, you may be smoking wrong).

Sir Walter Raleigh brought tobacco to England on July 27, 1586, which means it took England 420 years and 48 weeks to ban public smoking.

But a few people get itchy eyes and rashes from peanuts, and now some people want to ban all nuts from public areas? That seems a little precious to me.

Now, I'm not saying that peanut allergies aren't real or that they shouldn't be taken seriously, but I know too many helicopter parents who have a full-on freakout whenever someone gazes too long at a Payday candy bar, because one time their kid sneezed after eating a PB&J.

These are people who react to a peanut like they spotted a great white shark in the kiddie pool at the Y.

Having said that, I understand the very real danger some people face from an ill-placed nut in the air, in their food, or even on their skin.

These allergy sufferers could literally have a deadly reaction to someone smashing a peanut butter sandwich in their face. Someone flinging a spoonful of peanut butter during a food fight could be catastrophic. They carry their epipens, and have told their friends how to use it in case they accidentally trip and fall onto a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup.

So I get that there are people who will actually die from peanuts, but I also wonder how well a public peanut ban would be received in this country. We can't even enact a federal smoking ban, and everyone knows it causes nearly half a million deaths each year.

A lot of it has to do with our culture of rugged individualism and the way we value personal rights over society as a whole. We don't like people telling us what to do, and we will fight for our right to do whatever the hell we want, even if everyone else doesn't like it.

It's my right to listen to loud music, it's my right to make fun of politicians, and it's my God-given inalienable right to eat as much cake for breakfast as I want. When my wife isn't home.

That means that if I want to sit at a park and eat those Planter's Peanut Bars that your grandmother buys, I can do it. If I want to put three pounds of peanuts into a mesh bag and swing it around over my head as some kind of performance art, I'm guaranteed that right under the First Amendment of the US Constitution.

Right? That's how America works, doesn't it? I have rights, and I get to exercise them whenever I want. (Although, I probably won't, since it's called "exercise.")

On the other hand, people have the right to not be sprayed by the dust from my performance art. They have the right to not die from being sneezed on by some kid chomping on a Snickers bar.

Bottom line, we may have the rights to say and do certain things, but not when it can actually harm someone else. So while I may not support a public ban on peanuts, I at least understand that some people literally risk their lives whenever they step on an airplane or get into a fight with Mr. Peanut. And they deserve our understanding and support. So I'll do my part and eat all the Nutter Butter cookies to protect them from accidental poisoning.

Photo credit: Jack Dykinga (Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)

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