Free drinkers from deadly risk

A proposed addition to the Minnesota Clean Indoor Air Act banning smoking in all Minnesota workplaces would go a long way toward helping nonsmoking Minnesotans breathe a little easier. The bill, making its way through the state House and Senate, would include bars and restaurants in its ban.

According to the American Heart Association, secondhand or environmental smoke is “a major preventable cause of cardiovascular disease and death.” Many nonsmoking college students probably don’t think twice before entering smoky bars for a few drinks, but even a few hours of secondhand smoke inhalation can cause irregular heartbeats and start the cycles of other deadly diseases.

A smoking ban would not only protect University students socializing in bars, it would also protect the establishments’ employees. Constant exposure to environmental smoke can nearly double one’s chance of having a heart attack, making a job in a smoky bar risky business. Smokers have a right to smoke, but nonsmokers have a parallel right to be free of it.

Environmental smoke contains more than 4,000 chemicals and at least 40 carcinogens. Banning smoking in restaurants and bars would make them more pleasant, healthier and cleaner – and Minnesota lawmakers are not the first to realize it.

Five states currently ban smoking in all workplaces. Of course, bar and restaurant owners thought business would go down should they be forced to ban smoking, but that was not the case. A Zagat survey found that jobs in restaurants and bars in New York went up after the smoking ban, as did hotel occupancy, and California has enjoyed similar benefits. A nonsmoking law might benefit Minnesota’s economy as well as its public health.

The bill is being met with praise and scorn by students and business owners. Student opposition to such a bill is predictable, but business owners should examine the evidence and embrace the idea of providing a healthier environment for their employees and patrons without risking lost business.

Additionally, many University students claim to be “just social smokers” – they only light up when they’re out with their friends, drinking and socializing. If these casual smokers really are not addicted, they too should be grateful for the chance to give their hearts, lungs and nonsmoking friends a break.