Sunday, July 01, 2007

England Banned Smoking. Why Can't We?

As of last Sunday, July 1, nobody is allowed to smoke in any bar, restaurant, or public building anywhere in the country. The country I’m talking about, unfortunately, is England, not the United States.

England joined with the other UK nations of Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland in enacting a total smoking ban in public buildings, including bars and pubs.

And that affects us how? It doesn’t unless you’re planning a trip to the UK. I’m not.

But it does lend us a good example. In this case, our friends from across the Atlantic are acting as a positive role model. If only this country had the guts to pass such a law….

But, alas, it probably will never happen, or at least not in the foreseeable future. Big Tobacco is much too strong an entity to allow anything as sensible as a smoking ban in public places. After all, the tobacco companies are still trying their darndest to hook kids on their lethal products.

So in the U.S. we must rely on communities and localities to pass smoking bans. It leaves us with a hodgepodge of smoking-prohibited places scattered amongst a larger matrix of smoking-allowed places. And even the smoking bans that do exist are not uniform. Some places, such as Indianapolis, allow smoking in bowling allies for some reason. Bowling allies are often filled with kids and teens.

Some local bans even include outside common areas, such as parks. Most do not. And for those who travel frequently, how does one know if a community or county has enacted a ban or not? There typically are no road signs announcing whether a community is smoker-friendly or not.

I eat out a lot. But when I come to Edinburgh and eat at one of the restaurants near the mall, I’m asked if I prefer smoking or no-smoking. It’s a question that I haven’t had to answer for many months in Indianapolis. It’s a question I keep hoping restaurant hosts and hostesses will never have to ask again, anywhere, at some point in the near future.

We all know the dangers of smoking by now. We all know that second-hand smoke is at worst, a killer, and at best an annoyance. And yet, when I’m in a restaurant in or near Edinburgh, I continue to see adults light up around their kids.

I am not in favor of a total ban on the sale of tobacco products. That didn’t work for liquor sales in the 1920s and it won’t work for cigarettes today. In fact, I not only believe that cigarettes should remain legal to buy and sell, but I believe marijuana should also be legal, not because I use it; I don’t and never have. But banning it by law creates many problems. Banning cigarettes would result in the same problems for tobacco enforcement.

We spend hundreds of millions of tax dollars in this country to stop marijuana use. It doesn’t stop it, but simply makes it go underground. Marijuana is only slightly more harmful than cigarettes and that’s mainly because it is filter-less. Legalizing it, taxing it, and controlling its distribution would make it safer.

In any case, neither marijuana nor cigarettes should be sold to minors. And nobody should be allowed to smoke either in public buildings or common areas. The law should be universal, not just in certain localities.

England’s lawmakers claim their ban is the biggest step forward in preserving the health of their citizens in decades. Why can’t the U.S. take a similar, bold step?

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