My Turn: Government is inconsistent regarding toxins in tobacco

Posted: Monday, March 01, 2004

The more this smoking issue goes on, the more irritated I get because I find the inconsistencies the government places on tobacco completely irresponsible. From a purely factual viewpoint, tobacco smoke contains many toxins, including arsenic, carbon monoxide, acetone, and other carcinogens. I think we all know this much.

Where the huge inconsistency comes in is how the U.S. government treats these toxins individually compared to when they're combined in tobacco smoke. Historically, people have been prosecuted and jailed for using these toxins in small doses in an attempt to kill someone over a long term. But these exact same toxins, if found in tobacco smoke, are somehow okay to spread over large swaths of people in small airborne doses. Smoking is done intentionally with the knowledge that it's harmful to oneself and others, so how does smoking differ from intentional poisoning? For every person, smoker or not, that's died from diseases resulting from long-term secondhand smoke exposure, shouldn't there be a group of smokers being prosecuted for premeditated murder?

Someone who chooses to drink too much, gets in a car, and injures or kills someone while driving is charged with a crime. Someone who chooses to buy a gun, aims it at an innocent person and shoots is charged with a crime. Even unintentionally, these actions are still punishable crimes. How are these actions any less harmful than lighting up a cigarette in the vicinity of another person? That tobacco smoke is going to harm each and every person around, that's a well-known fact. What if one of those other people is an infant or child? They're being harmed, possibly for life, and nothing is going to happen to punish the smoker.

With these examples in mind, it's clear that tobacco should not be legal, so why would a government allow the continued legality of small doses of poisons administered over a long-term, which is what tobacco smoke amounts to? I'll just say it's completely amazing what money can buy these days. Examine the sources of contributions made to governments and you'll be in awe at the amount the big tobacco corporations give.

As for this whole debate on where people should or should not be able to smoke, my thought is that as long as tobacco is legal, I don't know why the government would want to meddle in private business policies. Every person that patronizes or works at bars does so at their own choice. If you're a nonsmoker, why would you choose to seek employment in a bar? That's like a vegetarian taking a taste-testing job at the Texas Longhorn Steakhouse. It would be nice if I didn't reek of smoke after going to a bar to play pool, but it's my decision to go and it's the bar's decision to let me in, and I'm fine with that.

However, I don't agree with the notion that there are enough options for nonsmokers. Of all the establishments in the city that are non-smoking, try to find one that's open after 9 or 10 in the evening. Better yet, try to find one open after those hours that offers a dance area, karaoke, live bands, pool tables or dart boards.

A suitable compromise may exist in a requirement for better ventilation. Bars could implement air-scrubbing or large-volume air-moving systems. It's not the same as a no-smoking policy, but maximums could be set regarding airborne particulate matter and although there is no safe maximum, there might be a safer level that's acceptable all-around. Proper system selection and enforcement could lead to relatively smoke-free establishments that still allow people to smoke.

If ventilating the entire establishment would prove too costly, maybe the system could be placed only over the bar, similar to how restaurants vent smoke from their cooking area. That area could then serve as a smoking section. I'm sure other solutions are out there. It's just a matter of willingness to compromise by all involved.

Again though, I don't agree with any solution or compromise being unilaterally forced upon private establishments by the local government, especially to ban the use of something that is otherwise legal to buy, own, and consume.

• Jason Soza is webmaster of and an opinionated, nonsmoking Juneau resident of eight years.

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