TOM HARTON Commentary: It's your right to make me sick

February 28, 2005

Smoking is legal, after all.

The medical community says secondhand smoke causes diseases associated with slow, painful death. Doctors have been telling us this for 40 years, but who knows if it's really true? Even if you believe it, all that science shouldn't get in the way of someone's right to indulge in something they enjoy.

Life is tough enough on smokers already. Most can't light up while they're at work. If they fly somewhere-on a business trip, maybe, or on a family vacation-they can't smoke on the plane.

A smoker who enjoys going to a movie now and then has to sit there for a couple of hours without a cigarette. That's not fair. Some movies, "The Aviator," for example, last almost three hours. You won't find many smokers at "The Aviator." (They're not missing much, no matter what the Academy says.)

Our elected officials who care about our rights as Americans should try to correct some of these wrongs.

Most movie theaters have been smoke-free for decades. This crazy notion of not letting people smoke in theaters happened because smoking's a fire hazard as well as a health hazard. Someone, maybe some of our City-County Council representatives who are against the anti-smoking ordinance, should look into returning us to the days of smoke-filled theaters. If people want to smoke in theaters, exposing others to chemicals that can cause slow, painful death, they should be able to. It should be their right. Anyone who's afraid of a fire or has asthma and can't breathe around the smoke ... or anyone who just plain old doesn't like it ... can wait and rent the DVD.

Our elected officials who are concerned about smokers' rights should try to get this silly prohibition against smoking on airplanes reversed, too. Smoking on airplanes has been against the law on all domestic flights since 1990. This injustice has gone on far too long.

Now that airline security is a big issue, it might be more difficult to successfully champion the rights of flying smokers, but it's worth a try. If the federal government changed the law, smokers would be freer to do as they please. That would be a triumph of democracy. People who are harmed or annoyed by the smoke could drive to wherever it is they need to go. People who work on the planes-at least the ones who are self-centered enough to care about their health-could find other jobs.

Most of the employees who work in bars and restaurants probably don't care one way or another if the city's no-smoking ordinance passes. Those who do care-those who would like to be protected from the smoke that can cause them to die a slow, painful death-can find work elsewhere if the courageous champions of smokers' rights are successful in defeating the ordinance. Nonrestaurant jobs are easy to find, especially for young people trying to work their way through school.

And let's not forget about the rights of business owners. The people who own and operate bars and restaurants should be able to operate them as they wish-even if what goes on in their place of business is known to cause slow, painful death. If maintaining smokers' rights means a sicker populace in an age of skyrocketing health care that hits everyone in the pocketbook, so be it.

Some people who smoke could quit if they wanted to. Others are addicted and would like to quit, but can't. Either way, society shouldn't do anything that gets in the way of a bad habit. People should have the right to light up anywhere and everywhere they please, even if it costs society millions of dollars. Even if it kills them-or someone else.

Harton is editor of IBJ. To comment on this column, send e-mail to
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