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No Smoking…please? February 17, 2009

Posted by Joy Lee in Healthcare, Prevention.
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Smoking.  It’s just not cool anymore. In recent years, many state lawmakers have been planning to ban smoking in public areas. Even Virginia, one of the nation’s largest tobacco producers, is moving towards being smoke-free as Virginia’s leaders, Governor Tim Kaine and Republican House Speaker William Howell signed a plan earlier this month (as reported in the Washington Post) to prohibit smoking in restaurants and bars (with the exception of private clubs). This is a tremendous step forward for public health.

However, just as I thought that the anti-smoking campaign was beginning to make some progress, a friend forwarded me an article from ABC news that proved me wrong.  Apparently, due to the poor economic situation of the country, many state/local officials are easing up on the smoking ban as restaurants, bars and casinos are losing smoking customers and therefore, a lot of money.  My heart really goes out to those businesses that are truly suffering due to the economy, but please do not blame public health. The way I see it, the government is finally making a significant move in protecting the people’s health.  We have to understand that this ban will not only promote a healthier way of life for smokers and nonsmokers, but it will also protect nonsmokers from second hand smoke.

Critics of the ban argue that the government should not be telling businesses how to do business.  However, I suspect that business owners, in particularly restaurant owners, expect and deduce that smokers will not frequent their establishments once the ban is instituted.  This may be true in the very beginning, but in the long run, the benefits will outweigh the negative.   Yes, the prospect for a “long-run” is tough with the ailing economy, but could the reason for lack of business be the bad economy to begin with?

The move to ease smoking bans will only reverse the progress that public health has made to improve the health of people.  This will only benefit the tobacco industries and nobody else.  There are ways in which the government can ease the woes from the bans.  I would propose to policymakers to create a statewide ban, as some have suggested, to not disadvantage any restaurants in any city, and they should also increase tobacco tax.  This way, there are more incentives for people to quit now, especially in this economy.

If anything, I would like to make three pleas at the end of the day for public health:

  • Smokers, please do not smoke in places where there are nonsmokers, especially in places with poor ventilation.
  • Business owners, please seriously consider banning smoking in your establishment; it’ll make your place smell and look nicer without the clouds of smoke and ashes everywhere.
  • Policy makers, please don’t let the economy be an excuse to stop a crucial movement for public health.   It’s about time the general public’s health is taken care of.
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