Statewide smoking ban deserves support from Mississippi lawmakers

Published 10:33am Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Certainly no one argues that smoking is a health hazard, but only about one-fourth of Mississippians are protected from exposure to second-hand smoke in work places and public spaces. To date, only 84 of the state’s cities, including Brookhaven, have enacted smoking bans in public buildings.

Now, the Mississippi State Medical Association wants the legislature to put a statewide smoking ban in public places before the voters. Representing the state’s 4,700 physicians, the association announced last week that it will gather signatures on a petition requesting the 2015 Legislature set a referendum on the matter. Copies of the petition will be placed in doctor’s offices across the state.

The association says the petition drive is not requesting a constitutional amendment – that would require more than 100,000 signatures. Rather, the petition is aimed at showing public support for a “smokefree Mississippi” in the hope that the legislature will set a public vote on the issue.

In a state where individual rights advocates remain resistant, the tide toward smoke-free air in public buildings and restaurants continues to grow as more and more cities enact smoking bans. Brookhaven aldermen adopted an ordinance banning smoking in all public buildings and businesses in October 2011 but that law does not affect the area of the county outside the city limits.

Over the years, statewide indoor smoking bans have come up in the legislature a number of times only to fail to be passed. Meanwhile, Mississippi has the sixth highest rate of smokers in the nation, with 24 percent, based on a 2012 report by the Centers for Disease Control.

According to the Smokefree Mississippi organization, 26 states have already passed laws banning smoking in restaurants and bars, and 20 states have also moved to protect those working in casinos from breathing second-hand smoke.

The hazards of second-hand smoke are clear, as are the positive effects that smokefree laws have on quality of life. Moving to join the list of states with smokefree laws would represent a progressive gesture by the Mississippi legislature.

As we have said in previous editorials, governments regulate vehicle licensing, the drinking age and seat belts. Second-hand smoke is a proven health hazard, and as such is a logical target for government regulation.