Smoking Ban Protects Public Safety

RECEIVED Tue., May 10, 2005

Dear Editor,
    Finally, the smoking ban election is over! I have read several of Mr. Black’s “Page Two”s regarding the matter, and each read sent me into a state of depression. Usually, Louis and I are standing right next to each other on the issues, but on this one we were miles apart. Mr. Black is right that it is about rights, community rights vs. individuals' rights. I like to look at it from an environmental example. Coal Fire Plant A has a right to produce electricity in order to make profits for its owners and employees. I have a right to go outside and breathe and raise my kids in a healthy environment. I think Mr. Black would agree that the company’s right to profit doesn’t outweigh the overall community rights for a safe and healthy environment. Company A, with help from we the people (the government), should do all that it can to ensure that harmful chemicals are not released into the environment that cause chronic health effects and diminish the overall community’s standards of living. It seems like if I have a right to smoke in a public place, I should also have the right to drive my car without a catalytic converter or burn trash in my back yard. The fact of the matter is that bars, restaurants, billiard halls, etc., are public places that require protection for the public that frequents them. I have a reasonable expectation of safety when I decide to go to a public place. That expectation involves physical harm (why a club has bouncers), fire safety (maximum numbers in clubs as well as the correct amount of clearly marked safety exits), and the expectation of not breathing toxins.
Daniel J. Lowe
   [Louis Black responds: I think your analogy doesn't hold. The plant spews its gases into the air we all breathe regardless of how we feel. A business that allows smoking is a destination. One you don't have to go to. Given that before the vote well over 95% of the businesses in Austin in related fields banned smoking, there would be plenty of similar nonsmoking venues you could attend. The health issue is so tricky. What is community good and what is community puritanical parental overreaching? Banning smoke from public places where we all may chance to breathe it speaks directly to community health. Banning smoking from those last 200 or so businesses impacts on employees, performers, and nonsmoking customers who choose to be there. Arguably there are issues here, but it's not exactly "community health." Your example was: "my car without a catalytic converter or burn trash in my back yard." But isn't it the opposite? Now, you can't drive your car without a catalytic converter. Before the election there was a widespread smoking ban in place. The recently passed ordinance would be not exactly like but somewhere in the ball park of garages not being allowed to work on exhaust systems and special protection for those who work at gas stations and repair shops.]
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