We don’t have much of a dog in this fight. We don’t smoke, and we don’t go to bars that allow smoking.
And restaurants that allow minors are already smoke-free under Georgia law.
But Augusta is debating a stronger smoking ban again, and the usual arguments are being aired.
Smokers and their supporters say it’s their right to smoke, and the right of business owners to allow it. Nonsmokers and their supporters argue it’s their right not to be exposed to smoke.
No one is more free market than us, but on balance we believe this is a public health issue, not a matter of individual rights, privileges and preferences. We come down heavily on the side of nonsmoking. Our view is that a right to be free from toxic, irritating, hazardous pollutants trumps other rights.
The pro-smoking argument of “well, just don’t go to those places” is frankly offensive. Everyone should have the right to frequent public places and businesses. They shouldn’t have to harm their health to do it, either.
We look at it this way: Does a bar or restaurant have the right to serve tainted water or food? Of course not. It’s a public health issue. Why wouldn’t healthy air be as much of a priority?
No establishment has the “right” to serve you hazardous food or drink. How could they possibly have the right to serve up sickening air?
One could argue that clean air should actually be more of a priority than safe food or drink. Not everybody orders a glass of water or the chicken pepperoni. That’s easily avoidable. (The state nonetheless has reams of regulations about how food and drink may be handled.) Yet, everyone breathes the air. That’s unavoidable.
Nor does the argument that businesses are hurt by smoking bans hold water. Alcohol tax revenues in Savannah, where bars went smoke-free in 2011, actually went up in the year that followed.
If you’re thinking that might have been due to an overall increase in sales taxes, think again. According to a Chronicle analysis, Savannah’s alcohol tax receipts went up more than overall sales tax revenues.
That may be because nonsmokers had been staying away from smoky bars in droves. Many nonsmokers enjoy a cocktail every now and then. All of them, last time we checked, eat.
It’s to Augusta’s discredit that we’re among the last to figure all this out.
But we also question the insistence of smokers who apparently don’t care what they impose on others. Yes, as the law currently stands, you have that right in bars. But in this country especially, one has the right to do a lot of rude, discourteous things. A better proposition might be to ask oneself what one ought to do.
There is simply no logical, scientific, social or moral justification for needlessly harming, or even inconveniencing, others, particularly with pollutants that have been ironclad shown to cause disease and inhibit one’s ability to breathe.
One would hope that mere courtesy would have resolved this issue.
It’s also arguable that smoking takes a disproportionate toll on blue-collar and low-wage workers who must endure the establishment’s air for shifts at a time.
Again, the pro-smoking argument is Marie Antoinette “let them eat cake” on steroids: “Well, get another job; no one’s forcing you to work there.” Technically, of course, this is true. But it’s callous in the extreme: “Either breathe my polluted air or go elsewhere!” Even at the expense of one’s ability to feed oneself.
Nor does federal law allow for such an argument with regard to other health and safety issues: When was the last time OSHA told a worker, “Hey, if you don’t like the hazardous working conditions here, move on down the road!”?
Well, it’s an immutable characteristic of societies and human nature that when you assert yourself and your rights to the point of other folks’ detriment, you can expect them to assert their own. The truth of the matter is, nonsmokers – who comprise the vast majority – have been beyond patient.
It’s time to end this debate once and for all. Augusta Commission, it’s time to make Augusta smoke-free.
Let’s end this argument by taking it outside.