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Smoking ban is a workplace safety issue

Publication Date: 2/2/2008
  • Author:Editorial: Dan Radmacher
  • Publication:Roanoke Times, VA

Some argue that we should let the free market decide the issue. There's nothing to stop restaurant owners from deciding to ban smoking in their own establishments. If smoking drives customers away, soon enough most restaurants will make the logical choice to go smoke-free.

But that would take too long, and would still leave many restaurants that allow smoking. To me, this is a workplace safety issue. Secondhand smoke is a known carcinogen. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control estimates it kills about 50,000 Americans every year.

Employers cannot knowingly expose their workers to any other deadly toxin. Secondhand smoke should not be an exception. Workers should not have to choose between breathing someone else's cigarette smoke and making a living.

For that reason, I'm with Sen. George Barker, D-Fairfax County, a member of a subcommittee of the Senate Education and Health Committee that passed a bill that would ban smoking not just in restaurants but in all workplaces.

As Barker said, "This is a public health initiative. That's why I think it needs to be addressed broadly rather than more narrowly."

History suggests the bill pushed by Barker will face a tough reception in the Republican-controlled House. That body passed a bill last year that would have done away with the mandate for nonsmoking sections in restaurants in exchange for a requirement to post a sign at the entrance of restaurants where smoking is allowed.

But if House members view it, as Barker does, as a public health initiative rather than a property rights issue, perhaps they'll find the courage to buck the tobacco industry, and their leadership, and vote for the bill.