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Editorial: Clear the air, support the smoking ban

Arizona Daily Wildcat
March 26, 1999
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We all know smoking is a tumor causing, teeth-staining, smelly, puking habit. We as a community and a society have based anti-smoking public policy decisions on that premise for some 30 years, from banning broadcast smoking advertisements, to placing age restrictions on the purchase of tobacco.

State and federal government offices have banned tobacco use out of deference to the health concerns of non-smokers. Since 1985, Tucson city ordinances have banned workplace smoking - except when those workplaces are restaurants, bars, bowling alleys and pool halls.

April 12, the Tucson City Council will hold a public hearing and take a vote on a proposal that would partially remedy the city's state of public health cognitive dissonance by outlawing smoking in area restaurants.

The idea of such an ordinance is not a new one to Arizona and the western United States. Mesa, Flagstaff and the entire state of California already have laws that keep smokers from lighting up in eateries.

Still, the issue remains contentious and ought to remain so. For, though anti- and pro- smoking activists poo-poo the other side's arguments, there are, in the proposal before the council, fundamental tensions that justify a ripe debate. In essence, the debate is one over the balance of public health policy and individual rights, both of smokers and business owners. On balance, the arguments of lost profits and infringement on civil rights raised by smokers and restaurant owners appear specious, statistically speaking. Neither Mesa, nor Flagstaff nor California restaurants have experienced a precipitous drop in business due to the smoking ban. The argument in favor of a smokers and business right to allow carcinogens in a public accommodation clearly flies in the face of the public policy decisions of the last 30 years. Restaurants are not, fundamentally, different from copy centers and dry cleaners, convenience stores and retail outlets. They provide a service to the public.

That said, there remains a vocal and well-financed majority that will fight each anti-smoking movement tooth and nail. Tobacco companies have money to burn when it comes to public policy. After all, it is only through monetary control of policy that the industry is able to survive. Money, of course, is inexorably linked to politics and, moreover, freedom of speech. We should not stop tobacco companies from exerting influence, it's an enumerated constitutional right.

In this case, however, a look at the facts, from a public health and economic standpoint makes a seamless argument against the well-heeled tobacco position. No legitimate scientists deny the ill-health effects of tobacco smoke, and new studies show no negative economic effect from smoking bans. That coupled with surveys that show strong national and local support for a restaurant smoking ban should indicate that the decision for a wise and responsive representative would be to support the "Clearing The Air" proposal.

Let your voice be heard to reach the Tucson city Mayor and Council call 791-4700