Empire Editorial: Secondhand smoke is a threat statewide

There’s been a lot of talk lately about marijuana. We’d like to talk to you about tobacco instead.


We know: It’s not as sexy a topic, but it’s even more important. Each year, 40,000 Americans die from secondhand smoke-related illnesses. About 440,000 American smokers die each year from diseases attributed to their habit.

Next to those figures, marijuana isn’t even a small potato. (Granted, we haven’t studied marijuana as much as tobacco.)

Sen. Peter Micciche, a Republican from Soldotna, has an interesting proposal that would help reduce smoking’s toll in Alaska. Senate Bill 1 proposes a statewide secondhand smoke law similar to the one enacted by the City and Borough of Juneau in 2008. It would ban smoking in bars, businesses, restaurants and other indoor locations. It would prohibit people from lighting up in select places outdoors, too. There would be no smoking in playgrounds, near the entrances to buildings or in outdoor stadiums.

E-cigarettes and vaporizers are covered, too. No one would be able to get their nicotine high in an airport or bus with those new electronic devices.

Almost half of Alaska’s population lives in a place that already has such rules. Anchorage, Juneau, Klawock, Unalaska — there are plenty of Alaska communities that have already accepted the fact that secondhand smoke kills just as smoking does.

The fact is, even without considering the health benefits, it’s simply nice to be able to go to a bar, a club or a restaurant and not come out smelling like smoke. Smoking is a habit that inflicts its harm directly and unavoidably upon others. It’s time to banish it into the back alleys where it belongs. We’ve learned from other drugs — alcohol and marijuana — that outright prohibition doesn’t work. That doesn’t mean we have to tolerate the negative effects of smoking.

Fairbanks is the most populated place in Alaska without a secondhand smoke ordinance. Residents of that city have said they feel banning public smoking would be an unnecessary intrusion on their rights. We believe smokers shouldn’t have the right to inflict their smoke upon others. As Zechariah Chaffee Jr. wrote in a 1919 issue of the Harvard Law Review, quoting another judge: “Your right to swing your arms ends just where the other man’s nose begins.”


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