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Deconstructing the Elkhart Truth’s Smoking Stance

We’ve been longtime opponents to anti-smoking laws on a number of levels, while the eTruth (Elkhart Truth) has been reliably in favor of them. Last week, the Elkhart Police Department ran a “crackdown” on bars and smokers who have been flouting Elkhart’s public smoking ban.  Today, the Truth Editorial page swiftly applauded.  With excerpts, here’s our response.

Reaction to a police crackdown on Elkhart’s smoking ban last week was — not surprisingly — mixed. But it needed to happen. This is a public health issue, which is why the Elkhart City Council passed the ban two years ago.

While we realize that laws, even silly ones, have to be enforced, it seems to us that the whole thing could have been avoided by letting adults make their own decisions.  Particularly in bars, where smoking is virtually de rigueur.  Whether it’s a public health issue is pretty debatable, particularly since no one is required to go to a bar (or any venue) that allows smoking.

In order for the public and business owners to see that the city is taking this law seriously, police needed to turn up the heat.

When the ban was first being debated, we referenced the “Basic Instinct” joke in which the leading lady asks the cops, “What are  you going to do, arrest me for smoking?”  It appears we’re getting closer.  As in the movie, the police should feel foolish and abused being asked to enforce this nonsense, especially in private venues where, literally,  no one should be surprised to find a cigarette.

Some critics suggested that the EPD needed to focus on bigger issues instead, but where do you draw the line? What ordinances do you instruct the police to ignore? For how long? Under what circumstances? The law is the law and it needs to be applied fairly and consistently.

Again, the need to apply the law fairly and consistently is something that could have been avoided altogether if the city council had left well enough alone.  There ARE bigger issues, and this is a distraction.

The reasons for the ordinance remain valid. Two recent studies for the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology showed that people living in American, Canadian and European cities where smoking was banned in public places had 17 percent fewer heart attacks in the first year than people in communities without bans.

Perhaps.  We remain somewhat skeptical of much research in this area because, as in other areas of science, it is prone to politicization and cherry-picking of favorable data.  The 1993 EPA study, which virtually kicked off the anti-second-hand smoke movement, was notably flawed, contained no original research and selectively reported the research of others.  Yet it became the false premise for thousands of media reports that followed.

The fact is, most businesses have eliminated smoking on their own, for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that the market (customers) demanded it.  Locations that allow it are either risking complaints or have a customer base that enjoys tobacco use.  Many businesses went smoke free before the ban because it was right for them.  Constant Spring in Goshen was smoke-free before that city’s ban took effect and did quite well, partly because of this.

But the businesses that continue to allow smoking are catering to customers whose exposure to smoke is likely to be first-hand rather than second-hand.  And these customers will smoke away from the bars as well.   It’s hard to imagine that these establishments are skewing the health figures much, if at all.  Again, can’t this be the individual businesses’ decision? And can’t the Elkhart Truth use a little common sense critical thinking?  Can’t the paper at least question whether or not some of its sources might be skewed?

Yes, the bars and restaurants who feel they lose business by following the ordinance when others flout it have a very valid complaint.  But the problem is not enforcement, it’s the ordinance itself.  Bars that don’t comply are very likely losing business because of it and a few are fighting back — ignoring it to survive.

Legitimate businesses shouldn’t be subjected to laws that threaten their existence.  A lot of justification for smoking bans comes from research that seems to indicate that bans have little or no effect on business income.  But, as Forbes reports, much of this research is flawed, and well, just plain wrong. Smoking bans very obviously are hurting some businesses, otherwise the police wouldn’t have to run around like hall monitors, writing tickets to people who are capable of making their own health decisions.

We come at the issue from this angle:

  1. Smoking is legal for adults.
  2. The venues in question are private property.
  3. The adults in this venue are voluntarily present.
  4. Adults present in a bar smoke voluntarily and/or expect smokers to be present.
  5. The ordinance is flawed in that it prohibits the use of private property for a legal activity in which consenting adults are voluntarily engaged.

Smoking is a public health issue. Reduce exposure to second-hand smoke and the community becomes a healthier place.

And thus the Elkhart Truth and others justify reduction of freedom a little at a time.  On a larger scale, our federal government has exploited an overblown and manufactured crisis, along with claims of “the common good” to justify a takeover of our health system and destruction of our liberty.  Do we really need a local nanny-state when it’s obvious how dangerous the national one is?

Are we REALLY going to arrest people for smoking?  And is the Elkhart Truth really in favor of restricting the rights of adults who aren’t bothering anybody?

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