Smoking is becoming a relic of the past. With more information coming to light about the addictive and dangerous properties of cigarettes, many are kicking the habit. The recent billion-dollar lawsuits against the tobacco industry show public demand to make Big Tobacco liable. While the courts decide the merits of the lawsuits, some local communities have enacted more direct means to reduce smoking and second-hand smoke. A city ordinance went into effect Aug. 1 in Moose Lake, Minn., that banned smoking in restaurants. This policy is a positive step in the fight against tobacco.
Opponents of this ordinance claim that the rights of smokers — who have freely chosen to smoke — are being trampled on. This is a valid point. Documents from the tobacco industry, however, reveal that many tobacco companies have continually targeted people, especially youths, women and minorities, in attempts to addict them to nicotine. Even now, they only half-heartedly participate in efforts to prevent people from beginning to smoke and help those who are addicted to quit. Tobacco firms have not created an atmosphere conducive to taking an objective look at the positives and negatives of smoking.
Beyond individual addicts, smokers’ rights groups claim that businesses forced to go along with the ordinance would lose money from smokers who would not want to leave the restaurant each time the urge to have a cigarette arises. A study was done on restaurants that went smoke-free in West Lake Hills, Texas. The final report revealed no adverse effects on profits for the restaurants. Naturally, if smokers stop frequenting a newly smoke-free restaurant, nonsmokers will take their places.
Second-hand smoke has been shown to be as deadly as smoking itself. It is becoming a major policy issue as companies and places of business relegate smoking outside. Despite the backlash against smoking, many people still have the right to do so, and they should continue to have the right. But smokers must realize that their habit does not affect them alone. People in a restaurant’s nonsmoking section can still inhale tobacco without realizing it. The right of people to destroy their lungs with cancerous tumors must be balanced by those who do not want to do likewise.
The World Health Organization estimates that tobacco causes four million deaths each year. Smoking kills more than 400,000 a year in the United States, according to the American Cancer Society. More than 60 compounds identified in tobacco and its smoke are carcinogens, tumor initiators and tumor promoters. Smoking is clearly a public health issue that cannot be ignored. Moose Lake has taken a major step in realizing this fact, and, more importantly, doing something about it.