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November 4, 2009 > Editorial: Where there's smoke...

Editorial: Where there's smoke...

When I was younger, smoking used to be a sign of maturity. American society not only encouraged the habit, but glorified it. This was before the public was informed that cigarettes and other forms of smoking are deadly. While much of the world still considers tobacco an essential part of daily life, many cities, counties and states in our country have determined that individual rights of smokers do not supersede those of others in the general vicinity. Personal freedom, it seems, has limits.

A crusade against the insidious addiction of tobacco and its noxious additives has become widespread and public. Although smoking which had all but disappeared from much of the media is now more noticeable in movies despite obvious and dire warnings, government restrictions continue to expand with the goal of its eradication. The Fremont City Council recently approved an ordinance to enhance a ban on smoking to include outdoor dining areas. Those appearing at the council meeting, including a current smoker, applauded this effort. Mayor Wasserman noted that the mood in council chambers was decidedly different from when, many years ago, Fremont first initiated a ban on smoking in enclosed public places and some dining areas. At that time, all comments favored smoking.

As smoker restrictions become tighter, a question arises. At what point, if ever, does the prohibition of tobacco become too dictatorial in the name of public safety? In an effort to further reduce smoking in Fremont, Councilmember Wieckowski introduced the term "eatery" to include any venue where drinks, food [or the thought of food?] might be involved. From the tenor of his comments, it appears that nothing short of an outright ban of smoking anywhere within the city limits is his goal. For non-smokers this may be a cheerful thought but others locked into the habit might have a different attitude.

Where do personal rights and freedom fit into this scenario? Does an individual have the right to pursue self-harmful behavior? When are the effects of such conduct unacceptable? Even if second-hand smoke is not a factor, can public officials decide in the name of health that all citizens must follow a healthy lifestyle? Can this concept expand to an "acceptable" diet and list of approved foods? While there are plenty of folks who advocate a particular lifestyle including a specific diet and exercise, we have still not crossed the line to dictate such behavior. Dietary "do's and don'ts have come and gone over the years and, in retrospect, some seriously pursued health "truths" have proven to be seriously flawed.

Local jurisdictions should protect residents from harmful behavior if such actions have direct consequences to others even within a family. I do recognize, however, that in our society allowances are made for different cultural and lifestyle patterns. As long as these actions do not impair or harm the rights or health of another individual, accommodation should be made.

I am a non-smoker

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