Smoking ban a limit on freedom but a big step forward for Springfield

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Editor's note: Springfield, Mo. will be voting on its version of a smoking ban next week. Here is the editorial that ran in the Springfield News-Leader on Sunday.

As members of civilized society, we all accept limits on our freedom.

We know we can't drive 60 mph in a school zone.

We understand we shouldn't dump raw sewage into a lake.

We know it's wrong to yell "fire" in a crowded theater.

On April 5, we strongly urge city voters -- smokers and nonsmokers alike -- to accept another limit on freedom: Vote "yes" on the proposed ordinance to ban smoking in all indoor places accessible to workers or the public.

It is the right thing to do for public health: Despite the protestations of opponents, it is clear that secondhand smoke, as much as smoking, is hazardous to your health, not just a nuisance to be tolerated.

The ban recognizes the danger being imposed on workers, including many with little choice about their place of employment, and it's especially important to those working in food service or bars where literally every breath they take exposes them to risk of harm.

Finally, the ban is an important step forward for the image of Springfield, putting our city on even footing with hundreds of smaller and larger cities in protecting the public's right to clean air.

Reasonable smokers understand that when they light up, they are imposing on their nonsmoking friends, associates and the perfect strangers at the restaurant table next to them. Many smokers are courteous enough to ask if others mind -- or voluntarily step outside to avoid stinking up a house or blowing smoke in someone else's face.

This recognizes the basic limits of freedom. You are free to put yourself at risk, or do whatever you want, so long as it does not violate the rights of others -- or put others at risk of harm -- without their consent.

What opponents of the ban seem to ignore is how the freedom of one person to smoke infringes on the personal liberty of others who would like to be able to enjoy being out in public, or do their jobs, without the annoyance and danger posed by secondhand smoke.

Opponents argue that the ban interferes with the rights of businesses to choose -- and that if an individual does not want to patronize a smoking establishment, they can find a nonsmoking alternative. We argue that all businesses are regulated for the common good. Restaurants and bars, in particular, face myriad regulations to ensure public safety. In that regard, banning smoking is no different.

The ban will level the playing field for restaurants and bars, which is important to fostering competition. And the evidence suggests that businesses in other cities with such bans do just fine, if not better, after the law is enacted.

The proposed ordinance would replace the city's existing smoking regulations, which are riddled with exemptions and result in unequal playing rules. The proposal also would ban smoking in some outside areas such as playgrounds and within five feet of building entrances and windows.

Opponents have attempted to downplay the health risks of secondhand smoke, although even Dr. John Lilly, a spokesman for Live Free Springfield, acknowledged in an interview he was "not going to say it doesn't cause cancer." He just says they haven't proven it.

Surgeons general for 25 years have been saying just the opposite. For instance, Vice Adm. Richard H. Carmona, surgeon general under President George W. Bush, reported in 2006 that nonsmokers exposed to secondhand smoke are at risk of inhaling more than 50 carcinogens and at least 250 chemicals known to be toxic or carcinogenic.

Carmona concluded:

* "Secondhand smoke exposure causes heart disease and lung cancer in adults and sudden infant death syndrome and respiratory problems in children.

* "There is NO risk-free level of secondhand smoke exposure, with even brief exposure adversely affecting the cardiovascular and respiratory system.

* "Only smoke-free environments effectively protect nonsmokers from secondhand smoke exposure in indoor spaces."

Make Springfield workplaces and public indoor spaces smoke free. Vote "yes" on April 5.

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