Monday, January 31, 2005

Pioneer Press stamps its rhetorical feet for smoking ban

Posted by Craig Westover | 8:23 AM |  

The Pioneer Press published another smoking ban editorial today, again without definition of "public" health, this one criticizing the compromise that would ban smoking in restaurants but carve out an exemption for bars and private clubs.
An amendment attached by Rep. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka, to the House bill would make a distinction between bars and restaurants, excluding bars from the ban while defining restaurants as establishments with more than half their sales in food rather than liquor. Under that definition, the bill that advanced would ban smoking in restaurants but not bars. While the compromise of a full ban allowed the legislation to advance, the goal must be a ban in all indoor public places. It's a health risk issue regardless of where the smoking occurs. Reducing risk means reducing exposure to smoke. Period. . . .

The challenge, as the first committee skirmish shows, is not to let the goal of smoke-free indoor spaces be pushed further into the future with partial fixes, such as the Abeler amendment or a local pre-emption option to the state law.
Like the Health Policy and Finance Committee, the Pioneer Press again ignored the threes crucial tests that this legislation must pass --

First, judged by neutral criteria of "public" health, does secondhand smoke require government intervention?

Second, is the state-level the appropriate level of government to manage local economic and cultural affairs?

Third, are natural, autonomous individual rights subservient to state-granted civil rights based on majority preference?

The Pioneer Press is right in one regard. Passage of a smoking ban bill, amended or not, is not a good thing. Exempting bars and private clubs is economically good for those businesses, but such a bill admits that the state has the legitimate authority to micromanage the economies and culture of local communities statewide, opens the door to virtually any issue becoming a public health issue, and takes another bite out of private property rights.

House File 405 is not just about secondhand smoke. Some letters to the Pioneer Press from non-smokers might be in order.