EDITORIAL: State negligent on smoking ban: Lawmakers sidestep serious issue

January 28, 2008

State negligent on smoking ban Lawmakers sidestep serious issue

We'd like to think the demise of Rep. Charlie Brown's bill that would have banned workplace smoking statewide was just another casualty of the property tax reform wave.

More likely, the bill died because our legislators don't have the will to tackle the sad state of Hoosier health.

Brown's bill died in a House committee Jan. 23 after a brief hearing in which testimony on the bill's behalf was cut off shortly after it started. Supporters of the bill who packed the hearing room weren't taken seriously. It's hard to understand how legislation dealing with such an important health issue was so easily discarded in a state that regularly gets low scores for the health of its population.

Opponents of smoking bans often complain that such laws are a symptom of heavy-handed government. What's next, they ask? Will the government dictate what we can eat?

Those are misguided notions. Perhaps government is heavy-handed when it tries to protect us from ourselves. But a government that protects its citizens from others-in this case, those who pollute the air with cigarette smoke-is nothing new. That's a basic function of limited government. Think drunken-driving laws and hundreds of other regulations that dictate how we use, transport or interact with hazardous substances.

Unfortunately, key legislators choose not to believe the reams of scientific evidence that tell us cigarette smoke doesn't kill just those who light up. In the meantime, the 76 percent of Hoosiers who don't smoke continue to be exposed to a known carcinogen because too many of our lawmakers value the minority's right to poison the rest of us.

Some think this is purely a business issue that should be left to individual business owners to decide. Rarely, however, do we hear an explanation of why business owners should be allowed to dictate the use of this particular hazardous substance when most other known toxins are regulated to protect the public.

Not that there aren't business reasons why secondhand smoke should be eliminated from all workplaces.

The cost to the health care system and to the companies and their employees who foot the bill should be compelling enough. The state estimates we spend more than $2 billion annually on medical expenses directly related to smoking.

Twenty-two states, including our neighbors to the east and west, have adopted statewide bans to discourage smoking and help lower those costs. Statewide bans also level the playing field for bar and restaurant owners who want to do the right thing but fear losing business to smoking establishments across the county line.

Now that our legislators have so easily cast the issue aside, Hoosiers will have to wait at least another year for relief. In the meantime, the medical community estimates that 1,000 to 1,800 people in Indiana will die as a result of secondhand smoke.

Our legislators should explain why we continue to sacrifice lives to indulge a bad habit.

To comment on this editorial, write to ibjedit@ibj.com.
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