Arguments against ban go up in smoke

In State News on October 26, 2009 at 8:20 am

This editorial was published in the Indianapolis Star recently.

It’s time for the City-County Council to hammer home the coffin nails for some long-dead arguments that keep being propped up against the movement to clear the air in public places.

No, bars and restaurants don’t sign their death warrant when they go smoke free.

No, smoking wherever you want is not a constitutional right; and when it harms other people, as secondhand smoke has been proven to do, it is a wrong.

No, property rights are not absolute for public accommodations; hence, we have fire codes and food-handling restrictions.

The council can enact a logical extension of those health and safety measures on Monday when it votes on a proposal to remove virtually all exceptions from the current anti-smoking ordinance for workplaces. Bars, bowling alleys and private clubs would cease to be exempt.

The case for going smoke free is airtight based on the facts. That does not mean there won’t be heated debate, as there was in a public hearing Oct. 14 that ended with a 4-2 committee vote in favor of the ban. It would be a shame if heat were to overcome light.

“Save Indianapolis Bars,” some of the opposition proclaimed on clothing tags. Yet the experience in this city, and in the 11 Indiana communities and 26 states that have outlawed smoking comprehensively, contradicts the notion that the policy hurts business. Quite the contrary, many bars and eateries report.

Only a certain special interest stands to lose under the proposed law. Sadly, it already has compromised one council member, Dane Mahern, an opponent whose father is a tobacco lobbyist. Mahern says he’ll abstain from voting.

If the business objection doesn’t hold up, how about liberty? Even if we apply this bedrock American principle to cigarette consumption, liberty stops where another person’s well-being begins. Secondhand smoke is no mere annoyance. As medical experts have testified, it causes cancer in nonsmokers and costs Hoosiers hundreds of millions of dollars annually — $47.5 million in Indianapolis alone, according to an Indiana University study released Wednesday. No one is more vulnerable, at least among adults, than an employee who spends eight hours a day wreathed in toxic fumes.

Economics and personal rights, far from being abridged by a smoke-free environment, have been enhanced in cities bold enough to go all out for public health. A city that takes pride in being a hub of the medical and life-sciences industries should be a leader in tobacco cessation. That moment may have passed; but the trend Indianapolis can follow has become clear as cigarette-free air.

As doctors tell smokers, it’s never too late to quit.


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