Cynthia Hallett: Smoking ban critical to protect public health

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Your editorial "Smoking Ban Needs a Vote" (Steamboat Pilot & Today, April 10) suggesting that the proposed smokefree ordinance in Steamboat Springs should be put to the voters rather than be acted on by the City Council is curious in light of your professed concerns about the dangers of smoking to nonsmokers, particularly restaurant and bar workers.

Indeed, there is overwhelming medical evidence that secondhand smoke is a cause of disease in healthy nonsmokers, including heart disease, stroke, respiratory disease, and lung cancer, and it is responsible for the early deaths of up to 65,000 Americans annually. Given this evidence, the City Council has a responsibility and a duty to act to protect the public from this known hazard. That has been a legitimate function of government from time immemorial and is not something that should be put to a vote. After all, the government, at all levels, routinely acts to protect the public from all sorts of health and safety hazards. Surely, there should be no doubt of the need to protect the public from the nation's third leading cause of preventable death.

Your concern that the proposed law, if passed by the City Council, would "trample" the rights of smokers and business owners ignores the rights of employees and members of the public to breathe clean air. That smoking is legal does not mean that it cannot be restricted when injurious to public health. To think otherwise would undercut most health and safety laws, including the prohibition against consuming alcoholic beverages (a legal product) when driving.

Lastly, your criticism that parts of the proposed law, including the requirement that smoking be restricted within a reasonable distance of 25 feet of smokefree establishments, are unenforceable is also unfounded. Hundreds of similar smoke-free laws in effect throughout the country, including more than 60 in Colorado and more than 300 with such a reasonable distance provision, have been uniformly popular and have been largely self-enforcing. Time and time again, arguments that smoke-free laws will be unenforceable or will be an economic hardship to businesses usually propagated by the tobacco industry have been proven false. Smoke-free laws create a true win-win situation: they are good for public health, and they are good for business.

Cynthia Hallett is the executive director of Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights, based in Berkeley, Calif.

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