04 January 2006

HEAD TO HEAD: Jackel vs. Clark on the Auburn Tobacco ban

(from The Auburn Plainsman, 22 January 2004)

By Roberta Jackel
More than 75 percent of Americans and 80 percent of students don't smoke. We are growing to recognize that other people's smoke is unpleasant and unhealthy.

Increasingly, people don't want smoke indoors where they are working, eating, going out for a drink or listening to music.
The Auburn City Council voted to amend our current ordinance to eliminate tobacco smoke from these places, starting in 2007.
There were many reasons to pass a strong ordinance, but the recent experience of Helena, Mont., is especially persuasive. They eliminated smoking inside public facilities.

The emergency room in the town's only hospital had 50 percent less cases of heart attacks after the ordinance was implemented. Sadly, the city leaders capitulated to pressure from a small number of people and restored indoor smoking. Heart attack rates returned to the earlier levels.

Many in Auburn have stopped patronizing some restaurants because of the smoke. Business owners should be concerned about the loss of these customers. With the low rate of smoking in the United States, for every smoker that may not patronize your business, there are three or four non-smokers who can take their place.

Customers' exposure is only part of the picture.

Consider the employees. One person told me she'd worked waiting tables in a smoke-filled restaurant/bar because it was the most lucrative employment available. But she eventually quit because the smoke affected her so badly.

My friend is not alone. A local bar owner told me that only 5 percent of her employees are non-smokers. How is this possible when so many people don't smoke? A reasonable conclusion is that the presence of smoke places a huge barrier to employment, especially for nonsmokers. People need access to good jobs and it is wrong to say non-smokers can just go look elsewhere.
Smoke-free regulations fall into the same category as those pertaining to public health or unsafe working conditions.

We don't allow businesses to force employees to work excessive hours, serve spoiled food, or avoid fire regulations, saying that people who don't like that can just go elsewhere.

Why should an owner be allowed to create a hazardous breathing environment for its workers and customers?

A few small business owners have complained that government should leave them alone, but this argument is used highly selectively. These business owners apparently have no complaint about the City's efforts at removing sources of rats and ensuring streets are safe.

People have the right to use the drug nicotine, and nobody is taking that away, but that doesn't include the right to burn it indoors and force others to breathe its cancer-causing residue. Smoking sections in a restaurant are like urination sections in a swimming pool. Smoking should be removed from all indoor public facilities, period.

Roberta Jackel is a member of the Auburn City Council, Ward 2, Place 1.
By Dick Clark

By passing a ban on smoking in “public places,” the Auburn City Council effectively removed another layer of private property rights previously afforded to the proprietors of restaurants and bars on The Plains. The driving force behind this no-smoking ordinance was Councilwoman Roberta Jackel, who first proposed making Auburn a “smoke-free city.” At that time, Jackel mentioned similar efforts in Montgomery, making her initial case as a sort of political “keeping up with the Joneses.”

Jackel, joined by Mathews and White, expressed the primary concern at issue should be the health hazard created for nonsmokers by those smoking in small, enclosed areas such as bars.

Despite the protests of numerous bar owners, employees and developer Tom Hayley, the council insisted on restricting the rights of law-abiding business proprietors. Hayley’s objection was much like that of other business owners — an economic one. Although Hayley’s suggestion was to promote the alternate idea of a smoke-free Lee County, his comment supported what many others had already said, namely, that a unilateral smoking ban in Auburn would likely have a negative effect on those Auburn businesses that previously allowed smoking.

It seems quite clear from all this that the council’s actions were based completely on the perceived health benefits of a smoking ban. The problem is that this law takes away the individual’s right to choose.

Sure, smoking is a health risk. This ban, however, leads us towards a popular but dangerous precipice for American law. By the reasoning of the council, activities in public places that may be hazardous to those who participate in them can be outlawed. Now, the council claims that this standard only applies to smoking, as smoking endangers others besides the smoker, whereas, say unhealthy food (as one council member argued) is an individual decision.

This reasoning flies in the face of my DARE training, which taught me that peer pressure makes substances more dangerous. And, honestly, who hasn’t had one more drink or stayed up a little later into the night after some friendly goading? A Dec. 5, 2003 Associated Press story reported that moderate drinking does not combat stroke as previously thought, and in fact seems to cause brain atrophy. In addition, in the Jan. 26, 2003 issue of Newsweek, a bevy of doctors reported that staying up too late has been linked to increased severity of diabetes, high blood pressure, heart attack and obesity. With this information, it shouldn’t be long before the forward-thinking Auburn City Council bans bars altogether, since all patrons and employees will be engaged in some sort of unhealthy social activity.

Either that, or the council will recognize that, since bars are now consummate health hazards, a little smoke might not hurt after all.

Dick Clark is president of the Auburn University Libertarians.

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