Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Preparations for Smoking Ban in Indianapolis Demonstrate that New Law is Not an Appropriate Public Health Policy

An article in yesterday's Indianapolis Star explains that the preparations for the city (and surrounding county's) smoking ban in restaurants which goes into effect in two months involve a decision by restaurant owners whether to ban youths from coming to and working at their establishments or whether to ban smoking.

As the article explains: "County eateries face tough choice: comply with ordinance or limit customer base. ... area restaurants, most of which will become smoke-free under the ban, are wrestling with whether to limit dining choices for families in order to be exempted from the policy. 'That's the decision everybody is trying to make. That's the tough part of it,' said Chad Ashley, general manager of Rock Bottom Restaurant and Brewery in Downtown Indianapolis."

The Rest of the Story

Regardless of what one believes about the health effects of secondhand smoke or the need to protect restaurant workers from this hazard, it seems to me that everyone should agree that the Indianapolis approach to address this problem makes no sense, from any rational point of view.

First of all, if secondhand smoke is so hazardous that restaurant workers need protection, then what possible sense does it make to protect only workers in restaurants that serve children, not adults?

Second of all, if secondhand smoke is so hazardous that the government must come in and tell business owners what they must do, then what sense does it make to force these owners to make a decision about whether to allow children or allow smoking, rather than to simply determine a health policy for the city's workplaces?

And third of all, if secondhand smoke is not hazardous enough to warrant eliminating it in restaurants, then what possible sense does it make to intervene so intrusively with the way in which businesses are operated in the city - to the extent that the city is now regulating the clientele that establishments in the city may entertain?

Because this policy is completely irrational, I believe it has no public health justification.

As I stated back in May: "what we actually have here is a measure enacted in the name of protecting the public's health which has no public health justification, which offers no guaranteed public health protection to anyone - customers or workers - and which will likely result in markedly increased exposure to secondhand smoke for a large group of workers: those employed in establishments that are, or decide to become, adult-only restaurants or bars."

I think that smoke-free advocates in Indiana have significantly set back national efforts to protect workers from secondhand smoke. As I stated earlier about the Indianapolis law: "This completely undermines the national clean indoor air movement, by framing secondhand smoke as a hazard only insofar as it potentially affects the health and/or comfort of kids."

If secondhand smoke is so severe a problem that the government has to intervene into the way businesses are operated, then get rid of it. If secondhand smoke is not so bad a problem that adults need to be protected at all, then leave the poor business owners alone!

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