Friday, October 01, 2004

READER RESPONSE -- Under public health umbrella

Posted by Craig Westover | 7:38 AM |  

Common people recognize common sense.

Writing in today’s Letters to the Editor in the St. Paul Pioneer Press, Ernest Melby accurately points out that the argument for a bar and restaurant smoking ban put forth by State Representative Jim Rhodes and Blue Cross Blue Shield’s Marc Manley leads to the absurdity that virtually any activity falls under the umbrella of public health. Melby writes --

Jim Rhodes and Marc Manley stretched some statements in Craig Westover's Sept. 1 column to the point of becoming absurd (If secondhand smoke isn't a public health threat, what is?" Sept. 28). We can post a restaurant or other establishment as "nonsmoking." We cannot, or would not, post something like, "We keep food at an unsafe temperature." I can have a choice as to whether or not I enter a smoking establishment. I do not have a choice how food is kept. I can see smoke and smell it. I cannot see bacteria or know I will ingest it.

If one carries the public health issue to the extreme, almost everything falls under its umbrella. Traveling in cars, climbing ladders, riding bicycles and even walking across a street all become public health issues. How far do we want to restrict individual freedoms is the real question.

Like many who oppose a smoking ban, Melby’s objection goes to a greater principle, a greater fear than a whiff of secondhand smoke. His letter goes on --

I expect the more government gets into the health care business, the more our lives and activities will be restricted in the name of public health.
That will indeed be the case if government, as Rhodes and Manely imply, must get involved in personal responsibility issues whenever the situatation “seems” to warrant it, rather than restricting its involvement based on sound criteria for action. A widespread individual health issue does not always necessarily rise to the level of a “public” health problem. In the September 1 column I write --
[A] bar and restaurant smoking ban, statewide or local, doesn't pass the test of a public health problem requiring government intervention. Public health/government intervention is at issue only when people are exposed to risks to which they have not consented and which pose dangers to the community at
large from which individuals cannot realistically protect themselves.No one is forced to patronize or seek employment at a smoking establishment. Diseases caused by cigarette smoke are not contagious, so there's no risk to the community. It's easy for individuals to protect themselves from the danger of secondhand smoke — don't patronize or seek employment at smoking establishments.
Read the column . . . .

Melby's letter is the common sense concurrence to those criteria.

Even in the area of public health, we must be vigilant to maintain the rule of law, not rule of men. Kudos to Mr. Melby for demonstrating that vigilance.