It seems there’s a fairly strong push to ban smoking in bars and restaurants as a public health measure. The negative effects of second-hand smoke have been well documented, but recent studies show the effects for short-term exposure can be just as deadly. A study reported in Time magazine last week found a 40% drop in the number of heart attacks when the city instituted a smoking ban. When a court order lifted the ban 6 months later, the number heart attacks bounced back.
From the smoker’s side it’s an argument of freedom and letting the people decide. They argue that government shouldn’t be involved and that people will decide simply by where they spend their money. If non-smokers stayed away from smokey bars and there was enough economic pressure, restaurants and bars would voluntarily ban smoking.
It seems logical enough to me, except that we’re not talking about a simple matter of choice. We’re talking about a health risk. One argument in the articles I read compared it to aspestos in a restaurant falling onto people’s food from the ceiling and the government doing nothing about it. The other side countered by saying that’s a false comparison — aspestos is illegal, cigarettes are not. Which leads me to the question why not? We ban drugs that have a harmful effect on the body, why not cigarettes? I don’t know of any positive effect smoking can give that might outweigh their negative effects (alcohol, on the other hand, has tremendous negative social effects, but it does have positive health effects when people drink responsibly). I don’t think it’s even possible to smoke responsibly.
But rather than just rant about it in my blog, I did a quick Google search to find the e-mail addresses of the St. Paul City Council members. A minute later my voice had been heard. The Internet: Is there anything it can’t do?