Personal Freedom?

RECEIVED Fri., April 15, 2005

Dear Editor,
    I find it a bit disturbing that the proposed smoking ban debate simply comes down to an economic issue with so many. In all of the letters and articles I've read, not one person against the ban has disputed the health/safety issue. Dollars over danger, so to speak.
    More than 60 known carcinogens have been identified in environmental tobacco smoke. There are strict standards as to what industries can burn and the resulting release into the atmosphere. Yet, every single day, people are indoors, in public places, burning objects that release formaldehyde, carbon monoxide, benzene, lead, and vinyl chloride into the air along with many other chemicals. ETS has been linked with cancer, heart disease, and respiratory problems, including asthma, in nonsmokers. This has been confirmed by numerous health agencies, including the U.S. surgeon general, Environmental Protection Agency, Occupational and Safety Administration, National Academy of Sciences, International Agency for Research on Cancer, and the toxicology program of the National Institute of Environmental Sciences.
    As the result of such tobacco research, smoking prevalence has decreased 28% in Texas since 1990. Many who have stopped smoking said they not only quit for themselves, but for the health of their family and friends, as well.
    At least I can respect the economic arguments. The “personal freedom” and “property rights” angles are embarrassing. There are countless laws already in place that restrict personal behavior in public places and place standards on how a business must conduct itself. For example, one can't stand up and make a speech in a movie theatre, or smoke, without consequences. See those required lights marking a fire exit? Judging by the number of new movie theatres built in the Austin area, that doesn't seem to bother many on the grounds of freedom and rights.
    Finally, as far as economics, how about the fact that tobacco costs Texas at least $10 billion annually in health costs and lost productivity? As a result, since 2000, Texas has spent more than $60 million dollars on tobacco-control programs. All Texans pay those tabs – the nonsmokers have no "personal freedom" in the matter.
Paul Betts, MS
Epidemiologist
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