Panel right to stop anti-smoking bill

Published 6:00 am Monday, February 24, 2003

For non-smokers tired of coughing from the leftover residue ofanother’s bad habit, a bill that bans smoking from public places isa godsend. For smokers, the bill is another good reason to give upthe nasty habit. For those who are concerned about theever-increasing eye of government on one’s daily life, well, theymight want to read the fine print.

Members of the House Public Health and Welfare Committee havedone the necessary reading and have pulled the plug on the the mostcontroversial portion of the bill.

As passed by the Senate, SB-2648 would have forbidden the use ofall tobacco products in all buildings in which the public hasaccess — regardless if the building was government-owned orprivately-owned. Smoking would be prohibited within 10 feet of anydoorway, and business owners would have been required to installwarning signs and to establish policies to make their officessmoke-free. Only private homes, motel and hotel rooms, bars,tobacco stores and the gaming areas of casinos would have beenexempt.

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On the face of it, the move to remove smoking from public placesis good legislation; however, there becomes a line when it becomestroublesome. Take, for example, a small mom and pop business wherethe owner is a smoker and chooses to light up in the privacy of hisor her office. The owner would be in violation of state law andsubject to a unspecified fine.

We wholeheartedly agree with the concept to reduce the use oftobacco products and to protect non-smokers from the hazards ofsecond-hand smoke. It is problematic, however, when those effortscut such a large swath and effectively set up the tobacco police toslap the hand of any business owner who fails to follow thelaw.

Smoking is a public problem and businesses have learned to dealwith their smoking customers and employees, as most are nowsmoke-free. But their decision should be voluntary — not a mandatefrom the state capitol.

The revised bill, in our view, is a major improvement. However,the most effective way to reduce smoking is through higher taxes ontobacco products — the individual has a choice and the statereceives increased tax revenue from that choice. Unfortunately,bills to increase such a tax are bottled up in committee.