Cape Girardeau voters will decide in the April election if all public establishments in the city should be required to provide a smoke-free environment. This is an important decision voters will make, one in which individuals on both sides of the issue bring valid arguments.
Tobacco is widely recognized as a product that can pose serious health hazards, and efforts to discourage tobacco use are important. There are few things more disturbing than seeing a child in a car with a parent who is smoking. According to the Mayo Clinic website, the potential effects from secondhand smoke range from cardiovascular disease to cancer -- all the more reason to discourage the habit.
Because of the dangers of secondhand smoke, the trend in this country is for more smoking limitations to be enacted. Many states have already limited where smoking can take place, including Missouri, and according to the Associated Press, 18 Missouri municipalities have ordinances that prohibit smoking in all bars and restaurants. These include Columbia, St. Louis, Jefferson City, Warrensburg, Maryville and Creve Coeur.
Opponents of the proposed smoking ban in Cape Girardeau argue that private property rights and personal choice are the central issues, and that the proposed ban is too broad as it does not include exceptions for private clubs. Proponents argue that there are some health issues so dire they require government action, and employees should be protected from secondhand smoke even if they work in private clubs.
The dilemma many voters are facing is that while the dangers of smoking -- both for the user and secondhand smoke recipients -- are widely recognized, the substance is legal. This raises the all-important question: How and when should government be involved in limiting rights -- of individuals and business owners -- and when should individuals, including workers, within a market be left to decide for themselves?
Our position is that while we encourage restaurants and bars to voluntarily adopt no-smoking policies, they should not be made to do so.
We understand that many of our friends will argue that owners' rights end when it affects their health -- whether they are a patron or worker. We respect this position. However, those who do not want to be exposed to secondhand smoke are not without options.
While we encourage tobacco users to kick the habit for their own good, we also recognize that tobacco is a legal product and whether one uses it, operates or works within a business that allows it, or patronizes a business where it is allowed is largely that person's prerogative.