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Juneau smoking ban is overdue

Posted: Sunday, February 22, 2004

Robert Hale is publisher of the Juneau Empire.

In considering the recommendations of its Smoking Ordinance Review Task Force, the Juneau Assembly has what I think is a fairly easy decision in moving to make all public facilities and businesses smoke-free.

The task force report that will be presented to the Assembly is set to be finalized on Thursday. Under the city's current ordinance some restaurant bars are exempted and allow smoking, something the Juneau Clean Air Coalition is lobbying hard to change.

If anything, the city's decision to do so is overdue in light of other communities - many of them progressive tourist towns not unlike Juneau - that have successfully banned smoking in and around public buildings and private businesses as well.

My support of the smoking ban is based much more on some personal experiences and my own distaste for smoking than it is anything else. And while I have some degree of respect for an individual's right to smoke, and see some of the validity in business owners' rights to run their establishments as they see fit, I can't overlook what I think is a much larger public health issue.

Within the past 12 years I've seen my maternal grandfather and my paternal aunt succumb to agonizing deaths largely because of addictions to tar and nicotine they simply could never beat. My grandfather had smoked filterless cigarettes for 60 years or more, and my aunt, who certainly should have known better than to smoke because of her 40-plus years as a pediatrician, puffed along for a good 50 years.

Just last month I learned from a friend in North Carolina that she has lung cancer and is undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatments in addition to the surgery she has had to help eradicate cancer tumors. Her cancer, doctors told her, is most likely the result of second-hand smoke she breathed in from her late husband, who died five years ago of lung cancer. The diagnosis, ironically, came as a complete surprise to her.

As a proponent of the no-smoking measure I'm making no judgments against smokers, nor am I ignoring what could well be a negative economic impact on local business owners (although I don't think Juneau residents are going to no longer frequent their favorite bars and restaurants because they can no longer smoke there). I just think we all have the right to breathe clean air in public facilities and in those that cater to the public.

This smoking ordinance has been - and will continue to be - one based as much on emotion on one side as it is on sound reasoning on the other. Because of that the Assembly's decision will be no easier than it will be popular, but its members have the chance soon to enact public policy for which the good far outweighs the bad.



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