Wednesday, June 30, 2004

A Smoke-Free Column

On Monday, the St. Clair (IL) County Board unanimously passed a resolution encouraging all public places in the county to ban smoking in their establishments. They're not requiring it, they're just recommending it.

That's like not passing a law at all. Why not replace the Speed Limit signs with Suggested Speed signs? We'd rather you didn't drive 85mph through this school zone, but we're not going to stop you.

Whenever someone proposes making all workplaces smoke free, including restaurants and bars, opponents argue that it will hurt those businesses because smokers won't patronize them anymore. However, new data from Maryland and Florida, combined with recent stats from Florida, Delaware, California, and New York City (all of which have such regulations) shows that smoke free laws do not hurt the restaurant and bar business.

The economic collapse theory is simply false.

I could see an impact argument being made if only one small municipality banned smoking. Then, smokers might simply go to an adjacent town for dinner or a drink. But if it's done on a countywide or statewide basis, people are not going to drive from, say, Missouri to Illinois, just so they can light one up after a meal. Besides, smokers can still enjoy that after dinner cigarette outside the restaurant, or in their car.

While the debate on the dangers of second hand smoke continues, there can be no argument that smoking is an activity that is extremely annoying to non smokers. Name for me one other activity that annoys others as much as smoking, yet is still permitted and tolerated in eating and drinking establishments. You wouldn't want me blowing an air horn into your ear, would you?

Smokers also argue that their rights are being trampled. Since when does the right of a few to foul the air come before the right of everyone to breathe clean air?

On my radio show, a listener pointed out how, if such a law were enacted here, it would be silly to be able to buy a pack of cigarettes from a machine in a bar, and then not be able to smoke one of those cigarettes in that bar. I countered that it would only seem odd if you didn't take into account all the other places where the rule already applies -- supermarkets, drug stores, even Wal-Mart!

There's no doubt that airplanes are much more pleasant since smoking was banned onboard. So are movie theaters, offices, and most other places. Why not extend that pleasant atmosphere to bars, restaurants, and casinos, too? I can tell you from personal experience how much better it is to play poker in the local casinos since they barred smoking from those rooms a couple of years ago. Too bad that hasn't been expanded to the rest of the casino yet.

Yes, cigarettes are legal, and I'm not one of those who thinks they should be made illegal -- in fact, I think you should have the right to put whatever you want into your own body! -- but your right to use a legal product should end where it infringes on my right to have dinner or a drink or play blackjack without going home with my clothes smelling like an ashtray just because I sat next to you.