Smoking ban good for health, people should still have a choice
Published: Wednesday, March 6, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, March 6, 2013 00:03
In a November 2012 report, researchers at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota examined how comprehensive indoor smoking bans reduced instances of heart attack. Their findings indicate that after comprehensive bans were put in place — prohibiting smoking in businesses such as bars, casinos and restaurants — instances of heart attacks decreased 33 percent, and the rate of sudden cardiac death declined by 17 percent.
The findings are revealing, since other risk factors such as diet and exercise remained the same. The takeaway is that comprehensive bans on smoking save lives.
When Oregon State University became a smoke-free campus beginning in the fall of 2012, the administration explicitly linked smoke-free living to a healthier lifestyle. On the university’s website, visitors are encouraged to educate themselves on the smoke-free policy and to “enjoy the health benefits of being in a smoke-free environment.”
Opponents of smoking bans — including Philip Morris USA and smokers themselves — often point out that while the health benefits of reducing secondhand smoke are obvious, smokers have the right to choose how and when they endanger their health.
Reasonable accommodations such as improved ventilation, or offering separate rooms for smokers and non-smokers, are decisions best made by the owners of businesses affected by the bans. Opponents argue business owners have the right to determine their own policies regarding smoking in their businesses.
Discussions like these tend to hinge on the individual’s right to make healthy choices for himself or herself, and the right of the community to enjoy an environment conducive to healthy living.
An area common to all — parks, university grounds and the general environment — should be reasonably free from harmful pollution. Private property enjoys special protection, namely, the owner of private property is generally assumed to have the right to dispose of his or her property as he or she sees fit. These distinctions come into conflict when property is privately owned, but used by the public.
As a society, we assume workers and patrons of businesses should not be exposed to unreasonable or unnecessary harm. Oregon’s Indoor Clean Air Act extends the privilege of a smoke-free environment to employees, but the health benefits are extended to patrons as well. Businesses in violation of the act face fines of up to $500 a day for each infraction and up to $4,000 in a 30-day period.
With the implementation of the university’s smoke-free policy, smokers in compliance have moved onto Monroe Avenue. Those not in compliance simply duck behind the clock tower. Oregon’s Indoor Clean Air Act comes into play when businesses accommodate smokers within 10 feet of doors, windows or air vents. Though state law prohibits smoking within this area, few real penalties exist to challenge smokers who break the law.
Businesses, however, which allow smoking within the 10-foot zone are also in violation of the Indoor Clean Air Act. State law puts the onus of enforcement on the police; the act places it on businesses.
The danger with smoking bans, however, is the tendency to condemn smokers for their choices. Generally speaking, the state — and by extension, the university — has no right to interfere with health choices made by its citizens — or student body, faculty and visitors — nor should it interfere in how one chooses to spend one’s own money unless there exists a vested public interest otherwise.
The harmful effects of smoking are well known, as are the harmful effects of breathing secondhand smoke. As the costs of healthcare rise and are increasingly absorbed by the general public through insurance rates, the public has a greater interest in the private choices of individuals. In other words, these are no longer private choices. They impact and affect the lives of those in the immediate vicinity, and the pocketbooks of the public in general.
Although we all have the right to a healthy environment, we ought to not condemn people who choose to make unhealthy decisions with which we disagree. As those decisions more often infringe on the common good, however, it is the right of the state to interfere.
But when the state is powerless to intercede, such as when police are unable or unwilling to enforce laws prohibiting smoking, or when there seems to not be a vested public interest, one still has the right to a healthy environment.
It may mean you move on without comment, politely ask if the smoker would do so elsewhere, or in some cases, appeal to business owners and the Health Authority to intervene.
We all should take responsibility for our health, but in an increasingly interconnected age we must also consider how our actions affect the lives, health and pocketbooks of others.
Citizens or employees may anonymously report businesses who fail to comply with the act by either calling 1-866-621-6107 or reporting online at the Oregon Health Authority’s website found at public.health.oregon.gov and searching Smoke-free Workplace Law.
Steven McLain is a senior in history. The opinions expressed in his columns do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Barometer staff. McLain can be reached at email@example.com.