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Other view: Let’s not re-ignite smoking ban debate

Publication Date: 11/23/2010
  • Author:Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editorial board
  • Publication:Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

There was talk in the recent gubernatorial campaign of repealing the statewide smoking ban. Keep it that way -- just talk. But on the theory that where there’s smoke there’s someone fuming about the usurped right to make someone sick or smelly, we urge the state Legislature to leave well enough alone.

The statewide smoking ban is a success. One need only go out to a restaurant and bar these days to see (and smell) that. The ban is prompting people to quit a habit that endangers themselves and others. It is saving lives, not to mention dry-cleaning expenses.

The state Legislature should embark on the path to repeal only if it also wants to repeal these gains.

Yes, we know. The rights that smoker advocates claim are being usurped generally have to do with the right to be left alone. The problem: This being left alone often involves not leaving others alone, making them sick or smelly.

If smoking were an isolated event that impinged on no one else’s health, that would be one thing. But banning smoking in public places statewide was essentially a workplace issue. An employer — a restaurant or bar owner, for instance — has no more right to inflict smoke on an employee than any other employer has to make employees work around materials that are knowingly hazardous. This kind of exposure shouldn’t be a condition of employment. A responsible government ensures that workplaces are as safe as possible.

Repeal of the smoking ban will simply lead to the same patchwork of smoking ordinances from city to city that the state had before.

It appears that some in the Legislature are feeling the pull of an imaginary mandate so much that they will reprise some bad ideas. A return to smoking in public places would be among them if undertaken.

At least 22 Republicans voted for the smoking ban in the Legislature last year. But in case anyone has a change of mind sparked by the election, last we looked, nonsmokers still outnumber smokers. On this issue in particular, there is no mandate.

Leave the ban alone.