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OUR VIEW: Smoke-free law badly needed, but not as a constitutional amendment or with an exception for private clubs

Publication Date: 2/10/2012
  • Author:Birmingham News editorial board
  • Publication:Birmingham News

State Sen. Vivian Figures, D-Mobile, is taking a two-pronged approach this year to get a strong smoke-free law enacted in Alabama.

Figures has put forward two practically identical bills, but one is in the form of a constitutional amendment that requires a vote of the public. While a vote of the public might make it easier for her colleagues in the Senate and House to approve the measure, that's not the best route to take.

The best route is for the Legislature to pass a smoke-free bill into law. Start with the statement that both the proposed bill and constitutional amendment make:

"The Legislature finds and declares that the purposes of this act are to protect the health and welfare of the public by prohibiting smoking in public places and places of employment and to recognize that the need to breathe smoke free air takes priority over the desire to smoke."

In other words, this is a public health issue. The health dangers to smokers are well-known, as are the health risks to nonsmokers exposed to cigarette smoke. About 800 nonsmokers die each year from breathing secondhand smoke. Secondhand smoke has been shown to cause illnesses such as heart disease, asthma, other respiratory problems and ear infections.

The problem isn't so much exposure to the general public, though that is a concern. But employees who have to work in smoke-filled areas subject themselves to the risk of a smoking-related disease or, indeed, death.

That's why this issue shouldn't be put forward as a constitutional amendment. Such a great risk to public health shouldn't be left to the whim of voters, even though they probably would approve the amendment since only 24 percent of adult Alabamians smoke.

If voters do not approve the amendment, it doesn't mean there's no health risk to secondhand smoke. It simply means they made a deadly mistake for many Alabamians who have no choice but to breathe others' poisonous exhalations...