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For the week of Mar. 8 through Mar. 14, 2000

Rights versus health: it’s a no-brainer

Commentary by PAT MURPHY


Since becoming a cold turkey two-pack ex-smoker 17 years ago, I’ve looked beyond the chant so often heard from smokers who rant about how antismoking laws violate their rights.

Rights?

Those so-called personal smoking rights inflict substantial harm on public rights to good health and heavy costs on the public purse. That should be the issue as the Ketchum City Council ponders an ordinance to ban smoking in public places.

Items:

 Most life insurance and health insurance companies consider smoking an indisputable hazard to health, even to life. Families of hundreds of thousands of Americans who die or fall seriously ill each year due to smoking rely on insurance benefits to pull them through—benefits that ultimately increase costs of premiums on policies of non-smokers.

 Medical research has concluded that concentrated secondary smoke is harmful to nonsmokers—airline flight attendants, restaurant and bar employees, office workers. The widespread ban on smoking in public buildings and on U.S. domestic airline flights is the direct outgrowth of demands to protect public health.

Ketchum businessmen who support a smoking ban probably have more at stake than merely pacifying nonsmoking customers.

Restaurant owners, for example, should fear that their places will become so unhealthful with nicotine smoke that insurance premiums for employees will skyrocket; grave illnesses of employees or customers due to secondary smoke may lead to lawsuits; enforcement of health standards for eating establishments may threaten licensing due to complaints of employees and customers about heavy concentrations of nicotine smoke.

If restaurants allowed fumes from kitchen grills to get as thick and noxious as cigarette smoke becomes during happy hour, health inspectors would close them down as health hazards.

Only 30 percent of the adult population smokes, probably less in the health-conscious Wood River Valley. Ranks of smokers continue to shrink, as smokers realize the real prospect of death or disabling respiratory illnesses.

As for Ketchum Police Chief Cal Nevland’s reported despair about enforcing a no-smoking law, his concerns are unfounded: police aren’t primarily responsible for enforcing such laws anywhere. Workers in public places (hospitals, government and commercial buildings, restaurants, in-flight airliners, theaters) enforce no-smoking laws by asking smokers to douse their cigarettes, just as no-gun laws are enforced at airports by private security personnel.

Police are summoned only when a smoker becomes unruly and refuses to observe the law, and thereby disturbs the peace. Since the advent of no-smoking bans, millions of smokers have adjusted to the laws by smoking outside the buildings.

Although Ketchum’s proposed ordinance is late coming, this much is certain: Ketchum will endure the same debate about smokers’ rights, government dictatorships, civil rights, threats to take business elsewhere and other irrelevant arguments that’re rejected everywhere.

Now it’s Ketchum’s turn to join common sense progress in protecting public rights to enjoy healthful places of work and entertainment.

Pat Murphy is the retired publisher of the Arizona Republic and a former radio commentator.

 

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