OUR OPINION: Drawing the line on smoking

The Grand Forks Herald went smoke-free years ago, and its buildings are much better places to work as a result. The vast majority of employees likely would agree.

The Grand Forks Herald went smoke-free years ago, and its buildings are much better places to work as a result. The vast majority of employees likely would agree.

Airlines did the same. Remember the days when passengers could smoke in the rear of the aircraft? Again, the absence of secondhand smoke makes flying a lot more pleasant than it used to be. And as surveys have confirmed, that attitude is shared by a strong majority of passengers, including passengers who smoke.

Hospitals, restaurants, retail stores ... even Navy ships are smoke-free these days, a staggering change from the smoke-choked crew's quarters of World War II. The trend in American workplaces is clear, and it means that for bars, truck stops and other Grand Forks outlets currently exempted from smoking bans, the smoking lamp probably is about to go out.

On balance, that's a good thing. True, there may be -- make that, there will be -- some hardship for the outlets involved. But the same was true for all of the institutions mentioned above, and in every one of the 23 states -- up from only two as recently as 2008 -- that now have passed comprehensive bans on smoking in public and private workplaces.

All of those institutions and states coped. All of them overcame the hardships. And all of them now enjoy a consensus that going smoke free was the right decision:


"By more than a three-to-one margin (75 percent to 22 percent), voters in Washington favor the smoke-free law that went into effect in 2005," the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids reports, noting a 2008 survey.

Likewise, "an overwhelming majority of Vermont voters (81 percent) support the state law prohibiting smoking in all workplaces, with 66 percent expressing strong support."

Now, add Texas to the list: "More than two-thirds (68 percent) of Texans support prohibiting smoking in all indoor work and public places, including restaurants and bars," the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation reported last month.

If 68 percent of Texans -- residents of the Lone Star State, the former Republic of Texas, the state of "Don't Mess With Texas" fame -- support a regulation, then the anti-regulation side has lost. The arguments on the side of fresh air, better health and workers' rights simply are too strong.

It's time for Grand Forks workplaces to go smoke-free.

All of that being said, it's also time for anti-smoking activists to recognize the law of diminishing returns. Workplace smoking is one thing. To the activists' credit (and society's great good), that battle largely has been won.

But now that smokers can't smoke in others' company, the next step seems to be to stop them from smoking at all. And that requires a crushing heavy handedness, one that makes even nonsmokers want to stand up for smokers' rights.

So, when the health commissioner of New York City proposed banning smoking in the Big Apple's parks, he wasn't fretting so much about inhaling others' smoke. Instead, he said, "we don't think our children should have to be watching someone smoke."


That's not professionalism. That's fanaticism. And it suggests talk-show host Dennis Prager is right when he says "health is a god in secular society, and, therefore, anti-smoking has become a religion for many people."

Once the big public health concerns have been addressed, here's hoping Grand Forks relies on persuasion -- not coercion -- to fight the unhealthy but legal habit of smoking.

-- Tom Dennis for the Herald

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