Wednesday, October 11, 2006

IN MY VIEW: Omaha Smoking Ordinance Doesn't Even Make Public Health Sense

I don't think there are any circumstances in which the 911 emergency response system should be used to report smoking ban violations, but if an anti-smoking group is going to request that citizens use this system to enforce a law, you would think that at least the law would have some solid public health basis to it.

In my view, the Omaha smoking ordinance doesn't even have a solid or logical public health basis to it. In fact, it makes no public health sense at all.

While my readers may have disagreements about whether secondhand smoke is a health hazard that requires government intervention to regulate, I would think that all can agree that whether an establishment allows Keno or not or simulcasts horseracing or not has no bearing on the nature of the secondhand smoke hazard.

If anti-smoking groups in Nebraska think that secondhand smoke is such a critical hazard that we must invoke the 911 emergency system to enforce smoking regulations, then how could they support a law that regulates smoking on the basis of whether Keno or simulcasting are allowed? And if the Omaha City Council thinks secondhand smoke is such a severe hazard that the police department needs to be brought in to enforce smoking regulations, then how can the Council possibly decide that bars and Keno or simulcasting joints don't need to be regulated?

This is hypocrisy.

I was surprised when I actually took the time to read the Omaha ordinance. Based on the anti-smoking groups' invocation of the 911 system to enforce the law, I assumed that these groups must consider secondhand smoke to be a severe hazard to which no one should be exposed. So I was quite surprised to see that the law actually says that no one has to be exposed, unless you work in a free-standing bar or a restaurant or other establishment with Keno or a horseracing or simulcasting facility.

In fact, it seems to me that any restaurant that wants to can get around the smoking ban by simply installing a television that picks up the feed from Horsemen's Park. It wouldn't even need to have betting. By installing a single television with the feed, it becomes a simulcasting facility and is no longer subject to the smoking regulations.

I don't see any public health basis underlying the Omaha smoking ordinance. As such, I don't see how Nebraska anti-smoking groups could support it or how the City Council can, with a straight face, make the public think that they are really doing something in order to protect the public's health. What's going on in Omaha appears to me more like hypocritical political maneuvering than any real public health protection.

And for that, they want citizens to call 9-1-1?

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