Smoking ban: It’s a public health issue
If our reader poll, which is totally unscientific, is any indication, it’s not just hot, it’s a scorcher.
We haven’t run many reader polls, but the number of participants over the two-week period, this poll is significant. Again, I emphasize that the poll is not scientific.
According to the poll, those favoring the ban out-number those who oppose it. The margin held fairly steady throughout the process at about 60/40, with the closest the anti-bans coming to the pro-bans was a 50/50 spread. I monitored the poll carefully, and I never saw the anti-ban vote exceed the pro-ban vote.
All that for whatever it’s worth – and it should be worth something for our city leaders.
For one thing, constituents usually contact the council member with whom they agree. So it’s not a surprise that Mayor Keith McMullin has heard from an overwhelming majority in opposition to the ban.
By the same token, Councilman Keith Donley, who is proposing the ban, heard mostly from those who agree with him.
(And may I take a moment to say that this would be a good time for one of the Keiths to change his name? Each has been accused of holding the other’s position.)
Our reader poll respondents are anonymous – they don’t have to worry about taking a public stand that might cost them friends or their jobs.
Comments on our Facebook page, which are running against the ban, are not anonymous.
What’s important here is that we listen, and really hear what people are saying.
Arguing the health risks is an exercise in futility. Cigarette/cigar/pipe smoke is bad for you. You can die from it. Yes, there’s someone out there who will argue against that, but there is too much evidence to the contrary. So let’s just move past that.
The biggest argument put forth so far against the ban is that it would infringe on the rights of private business owners. These folks think that the public can choose not to frequent businesses that allow smoking.
Most of the arguments for the ban are health-related.
I think they’re all right. Business owners should have the right to run their businesses the way they want, and nonsmokers can choose not to eat, drink, listen to music, dance or shop at their places of business.
I am not really concerned about customers who have a choice about where they eat, drink and entertain themselves.
I do have a serious concern for the people who work in places where smoking is allowed. If people in the hospitality industry – and these are the businesses that would be most impacted by a smoking ban – have to limit their job searches to places where smoking is not allowed, their job opportunities diminish significantly. It means that a job-seeker must weigh the benefits of a paycheck against the impact working in a smoking environment will have on his or her health in the long run. If there are bills to pay and kids to feed and clothe, I’m betting most people in that position are going to opt for the paycheck and take their chances with the smoke.
The argument of, “OK, they ban smoking, what’s next?” doesn’t resonate with me. Just because a city decides to ban smoking doesn’t mean the next step is to prohibit people from wearing pink shirts on Tuesdays.
We live with many laws that invade our privacy. We have to wear seatbelts in our vehicles. Kids under a certain height must ride in safety seats. Employees of establishments where food and beverages are served must wash their hands before returning to work after using the restroom. Bars and restaurants have to display signs warning of the dangers of drinking alcohol when pregnant. The time-honored Texas tradition of taking a roadie as you hit the road is against the law.
We just can’t roam free the way we used to.
Certainly businesses that would be impacted by a ban have a concern about the economic impact a smoking ban would have on their business. I’ve looked up studies (not sponsored by right-to-smoke or anti-smoking groups) on the economic impact of smoking bans on restaurants and bars. What I’ve found so far is that there is either no impact or the impact is statistically negligible. Dallas, Houston and Austin all seem to still be in business, last I checked.
It stands to reason that if smoking is not allowed in any restaurant, bar or other public gathering place, all such businesses would be equally impacted.
Smokers might not like it, but if the only places they can eat, drink or be entertained don’t allow them to smoke, it’s doubtful they’ll stay home -- at least, not for long.
I’ve also conducted a little anecdotal research. I asked a musician friend who plays frequently at venues in Corpus Christi where a smoking ban was enacted, if the crowds went away when the ban went into effect.
Mayor Keith’s position that people come to Port Aransas to get away from the restrictions of city life does little to sway me. If you use that line of reasoning, then we can do away with all our ordinances.
Back to the right of private businesses to conduct their business as they see fit, which is the strongest argument against the ban. Does that right out-weigh the right of an individual to work in an environment that is not harmful to his or her health? If private businesses do not provide clean air environments in which to work, then it may be up to the city to see that they do.
Mary Henkel Judson is editor and copublisher of the South Jetty. Contact her at email@example.com, (361) 749-5131 or P.O. Box 1117, Port Aransas, TX 78373.