Come on, Columbus: Let’s go smoke-free

October 1, 2009 9:34:00 AM



It''s time to reconsider an anti-smoking ordinance in Columbus'' public spaces, including in restaurants and bars. 


There are many reasons for such a law, chief among them safeguarding the health of nonsmokers, and improving the overall quality of life in Columbus. 


For those who dispute the health argument, a new medical study shows that smoking bans can have an almost immediate effect. 


The Wall Street Journal reported last week on a study that showed smoke-free laws reduced the rate of heart attacks by an average of 17 percent in communities that had enacted the bans. The biggest declines, according to the study, were among nonsmokers and people between the ages of 40 and 60. 


"While smoking tobacco is known to heighten risk of heart attacks over a lifetime, there is some evidence that even short exposure to second-hand smoke can raise the risk of heart attacks," the Journal reported. "It can increase blood pressure, cause blood platelets to become sticky and injure cells that line the interior walls of blood vessels--all factors that can promote heart attacks." 


The studies covered dozens of communities and included around 24 million people. 


We could go on and on about the unhealthiness of second-hand smoke. (Smokers have a right to their habit, but we believe they don''t have a right to impact other people''s well-being.) 


Come on, Columbus. Such a law is long overdue. Nearly 30 Mississippi cities have anti-smoking laws, including Aberdeen, Starkville and Tupelo. The negative health impacts of second-hand smoke are beyond debate.  


Still, it has been more than a year since the city seriously considered some type of anti-smoking law, and there is little interest in bringing it back up. The two city council members who pushed for a law, Ward 2 Councilwoman Susan Mackay and Ward 3 Councilman Gene Coleman, were both voted out of office this year. As for the county, board President Harry Sanders has voiced strong opposition to a law, saying it should be left up for individual businesses to decide whether their establishment should be smoke-free or not. 


Local restaurant owners share that view: They should decide. Sanders and many local business owners tend to view anti-smoking laws as a moral issue. "I don''t think we can legislate moral things," Sanders said at an intergovernmental meeting on the issue last year.  


Sanders is both right, and wrong. Such a law would legislate a health issue, not a moral one -- second-hand smoke creates an unhealthy environment. Citizens also should not be exposed to rotten food or an unclean restaurant, which the government also wisely regulates. (For this reason we also dispute the argument that businesses would be negatively impacted by a ban; many places in other cities have seen business grow when they become smoke-free.) 


But the law is also, indeed, a moral issue -- one for our leaders. We feel they have a moral obligation to safeguard our health.  


Let''s not have an anti-smoking law because everybody else is doing it. And let''s not have one because we want to impose yet another damaging regulation on business owners. 


Let''s do it because it''s the right thing.