Time to clear the air when it comes to smoke

Empire editorial

Posted: Sunday, August 05, 2001

Society can be slow to acknowledge its destructive habits, especially those that were accepted unquestioningly for generations. Society gives up such habits even more slowly.

Tens of millions of Americans can remember when smoking was considered pleasurable and was promoted by the tobacco and advertising industries as a mark of sophistication.

Not anymore, thanks to indisputable medical evidence gathered for the past four decades. But it was not until 1965 that the U.S. surgeon general's warnings were required on cigarette packs. TV commercials touted cigarettes in prime time until 1971. Airlines were not required to create nonsmoking seating sections until 1972. Smoking on short domestic flights was not banned until 1988 the same year the surgeon general reported that nicotine is addictive.

The tobacco industry and its hirelings still dispute the deadly effects of smoking but they are without credibility among the overwhelming majority of Americans.

But bad habits die hard, especially when the ingredients of cigarettes are as addictive as they are deadly and there are fortunes to be made by creating new addicts.

As more reliable information about smoking has become available, we have come to understand that second-hand smoke can be deadly to nonsmokers not just an annoyance, but an actual cause of disease and death.

Never mind specific numbers, millions of victims and billions of dollars cover it.

Monday night at City Hall, the Assembly's Human Resources Committee will receive the draft of a measure known as the Clean Indoor Air Ordinance. To the existing list of public places where smoking is not allowed would be added restaurants; pool halls; bowling alleys; bingo halls; pulltab establishments; the public areas of businesses; the common areas of apartment buildings, retirement centers and nursing homes; commercial passenger vehicles; a 50-foot buffer around school buildings; and 75 percent of the city's hotel and motel rooms.

If the draft eventually is adopted, smoking would be permitted in private residences, except those used as child-care facilities, retail tobacco stores, bars that do not share ventilation systems or have open doorways leading to areas where smoking is prohibited, and up to 25 percent of a hotel or motel's rooms and almost all of the great outdoors.

The patrons or owners of some facilities covered by the proposed ordinance presumably will lobby the committee and, ultimately, the full Assembly, for exclusions.

Prohibiting smoking in all restaurants will be a slam dunk for our elected officials. Seventy percent of the restaurants in Juneau already are smoke-free. Enjoying a smoke-free dinner should not be a crapshoot. Diners should know that their meal will not be spoiled by the second-hand smoke of stale sophistication coming from the next table.

But what about bowling alleys, bingo halls, pool halls and pulltab establishments? If 76 percent of the people in Southeast Alaska do not smoke, why should this huge majority be unable to bowl, play bingo, shoot pool or sit at the counter of a pulltab palace without being subjected to the second-hand smoke of the 24 percent who haven't kicked the habit?

Do nonsmoking families, singles and couples write off these pastimes? Do they engage in these indoor recreational activities only at the risk of their health?

We encourage the Assembly to acknowledge the real dangers nonsmokers face when they are exposed to the foul, floating by-products produced by smokers and their cigarettes. We trust our locally elected officials to act in the best interests of the biggest segment of their constituency those who do not smoke and who do not want their health to suffer when they gather in the same public facilities with those who do.

We support the ordinance and look forward to its passage.

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