Feature:Opinion

Anti-smoking activists won’t stop with partial bans

Theodore J. King Author, The War on Smokers

In 2003, Springfield, Missouri banned smoking in restaurants. But the mayor of Springfield, Jim O’Neal, wasn’t satisfied, and in the spring of 2010 he pushed the city council to ban smoking elsewhere. Some members of the city council thought the ban that he proposed went too far — i.e., banning smoking from the American Legion halls, Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) halls, and tobacco shops. So, O’Neal decided that rather than presenting the proposal to the city council, he’d present it directly to the people. The proposal appeared on the ballot in April of this year as Question 2:

Shall the City of Springfield, Missouri prohibit smoking in enclosed public places, places of employment, private clubs, within five feet of outdoor playgrounds and within five feet of outside entrances, operable windows, and ventilation systems of enclosed areas where smoking is prohibited, and exempt the following places from smoking prohibition: a) private residences, unless such residence is used as a child care, adult day care, or healthcare facility; b) not more than 25 percent of the hotel or motel rooms rented to guests as smoking rooms; and c) outdoor areas of places of employment; providing for the imposition of a fine of $50 per violation for any person violating said ordinance by smoking, upon a finding of guilt or admission of guilt; upon a finding of guilt or admission of guilt, providing for fines ranging from $100-$500 per day against the owner, operator, manager or any agent who controls a public place or place of employment or any business, and allows smoking to occur on the premises; providing for revocation of any license or permit issue to the business or public place that permits such violations; requiring that businesses and public places place signage advising of the prohibition on smoking?

Supporters of the ban outspent opponents by a 5-1 margin, and Question 2 passed with 53% of the vote. A temporary injunction was issued but did not become a permanent injunction. So, smoking is now banned virtually everywhere in Springfield, Missouri, except in some private residences and in a few hotel and motel rooms.

When there is a violation of Question 2 provisions, the violator, depending on the particular violation, may have to pay a fine of $50 or more (up to $500 a day). What’s worse is that the city has the ability to revoke the business licenses of companies that violate the ban — preventing business owners from making a living. Yes, Springfield has the power to put a business owner out of business for permitting the smoking of a legal, heavily taxed product in his place of business.

As justification for the city-wide ban, Clean-Air Springfield, an advocacy group behind it, produced this statement:

The U.S. Surgeon General has stated that “there is no risk-free level of secondhand smoke.” It’s a proven cause of serious health problems, including lung cancer, heart disease and asthma — even in non-smokers.

The statement is not true. In my book, The War on Smokers and the Rise of the Nanny State, I report the truth: that second-hand smoke is not harmful, except to those with asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, unless a person is exposed to an intense amount of smoke over a very long period of time, like 30 years.

I’ve noted that a temporary injunction was issued. It happened in a court challenge against the new law that was filed by a Springfield bar owner who argued that the ban violated a 1992 Missouri state law regarding indoor smoking. The court refused to continue the injunction, and a comment was posted on a Springfield newspaper’s website asking if children might be banned from restaurants next. A Springfield bully replied with this comment:

Were you banned when you were a kid? No, well you’re banned now so get over it. We’ll all love you smokers coughing your lungs up at home, or in Branson now, LMAO! Scoiety [sic] barely showed up to vote on the ban yet enough showed up that kept you smelly clowns from stinking up the town. Good riddance loser!

The person who posted that comment must view those veterans in the Springfield American Legion and VFW halls who fought to keep this country free as losers.

This ban is NOT about health. It’s about control. Remember, the 2003 law banned smoking everywhere in the city except private residences, private clubs, stand-alone bars, and tobacco shops.

The anti-smoking movement may have begun with a genuine concern for public health, but it has degenerated into a diatribe based on a lust for power, a desire to totally control the lives of others. For those who hate smoking, partial bans are not enough.

I wonder if Clean-Air Springfield’s supporters are going to flock to Springfield’s stand-alone bars, tobacco shops, and private clubs now that they are “smoke free.” Probably not.

Theodore J. King is the author of the book The War on Smokers and the Rise of the Nanny State, available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books a Million. He has been a columnist for the conservative quarterly The Oklahoma Constitution newspaper since 2000.