What they may not be able to do is protect people from themselves.
A health official appearing before the Augusta Commission Tuesday made the case for a complete ban on smoking in bars and restaurants in Richmond County -- even those that do not admit or employ anyone younger than 18. Georgia law currently exempts such places from the statewide smoking ban.
The unfortunate consequence of the state law is that smokers now flock to a limited number of bars and restaurants that don't let minors in -- meaning the pollutants are likely even more concentrated than before.
The anti-smoking movement has logic on its side. Smoking isn't just hazardous to the smoker, and smoking establishments are providing toxic work environments.
Could they do that if we were talking about, say, tainted water or food instead of poisoned air? Of course not. The health department would shut it down in seconds.
And yet, everyone must breathe the air; not everyone must drink the same water or eat the same food. The urgency of a clean air environment is thus even more pronounced.
Fact is, logic -- and science -- would dictate that cigarettes simply be banned. They are potentially fatal when used as directed ; what other products on the market can make that dubious claim?
But while we wish all indoor places open to the public were smoke-free, forcing them to become so will be problematic. Smokers will likely cling to their last public refuges (while essentially making them intolerable and off-limits for nonsmokers who care about their health). And many nonsmokers who see it as an issue of individual liberty will support them.
We suspect that argument breaks down when one talks about employees at smoking establishments. It's difficult to understand how such toxic working environments are still being tolerated today.
One could argue that employees choose to work in such places, and that's true. Yet, that's true of all workplaces -- and government makes no bones about requiring healthy environments in those. Why be so hands-off when it comes to unhealthy air?
The anti-smoking advocates pressing the Augusta Commission to act -- including East Central Health District Director Ketty Gonzalez -- have been referred to the commission's Public Service Committee. It will be interesting to see what kind of traction they get with the commission.
You can't protect people from themselves, ultimately. But it's odd that there isn't already -- assuming there isn't -- state or federal healthy-workplace authority to protect the employees.