Smoking gun

Friday, April 1, 2011

Some Cape Girardeau voters will cast ballots Tuesday to determine if the city will impose a ban on smoking in public places. They are voting on the wrong issue.

The real issue is the health dangers posed by tobacco products. These products kill people. If we wanted to make a real difference, we would be voting to ban the growing of tobacco and the production of cigarettes, cigars and smokeless tobacco products.

Instead, a group of concerned citizens has taken what it considers to be the best step, considering the options available. Through petitions, this group forced the city council to put the smoking ban on Tuesday's ballot.

It is safe to say that everyone knows someone who has cancer or other smoking related ailments. In my case, my younger brother comes to mind. He was the brilliant one in the family. His doctorate was in decision sciences and engineering systems. After six years on the faculty of the Naval Postgraduate School, he finally went to the doctor to see about the pain in his thigh. It was a malignant tumor. He had lung cancer, and the cancer has metastasized. After two years of treatment, the cancer took over his body. Our older son was dispatched to Los Angeles to bring my brother home to Missouri to die, which he did four months later.

No one will ever know if my brother's lung cancer was caused by secondhand smoke. He never smoked a cigarette in his life. He was persnickety about what he ate. He wasn't overweight. But he got lung cancer anyway.

Opponents of the proposed smoking ban could point to someone like my brother and say he was the victim of genetics. Or just plain unlucky.

But what if his cancer was, in fact, caused by someone else's smoking. What if no one could smoke? Would David still be alive today?

Opponents of smoking bans say tobacco could never be banned outright in this country. Look at Prohibition. Let's be honest. Prohibition didn't fail because it was bad policy. It failed because of government greed. The politicians saw how much revenue the government wasn't raking in from the sales of illegal hooch. Rather than keeping the nation sober, it decided to take its cut.

This is why tobacco will never be banned. Which leaves a smoking ban as one of the few options.

The argument that the real issue is government interference in private enterprise is about as hokey as they come. Who is government? It is "we, the people." Who is voting Tuesday? It is "we, the people." The issue isn't big, bad government versus independent business. The issue is how many more people are going to die because they are exposed to other people's smoke?

On Tuesday, I will be voting for the smoking ban, since I can't vote to ban tobacco. It's the least I can do for all the Davids in the land.

Joe Sullivan is the retired editor of the Southeast Missourian.

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