The only thing surprising about Topeka City Councilwoman Deborah Swank’s proposal to ban smoking in public places is that it’s taken so long for someone to bring the issue once again to the council agenda.
Several communities across the state have enacted smoking bans since the council last addressed the subject, and, realistically, it was only a matter of time before someone on the council suggested Topeka join the list, which now includes Kansas City, Kan., Lawrence, Emporia, Manhattan and Salina.
Swank’s proposal would ban public smoking indoors and at places of employment — the exceptions being retail tobacco stores, private residences not also used as a day care or health care facility, up to 20 percent of the rooms in a hotel or motel, outdoor places of employment and private places. The stated purposes of the ordinance are to improve and protect the public’s health by eliminating smoking in public places and places of employment; protecting the right of nonsmokers to breathe smoke-free air; and recognizing the need to breathe smoke-free air shall have priority over the choice to smoke.
For the record, we don’t support the ordinance Swank is sponsoring, which is on the council’s agenda today for a first reading. We also haven’t supported recent efforts in the Legislature to pass a statewide smoking ban.
However, it isn’t our intent here to defend smoking, either. It is a nasty and dangerous habit, and we don’t know anyone not employed by the tobacco industry who would argue otherwise. Rather, we think the issue is one best left to the marketplace.
If the city council is determined to play a role, it should be to put an ordinance on the ballot and let all Topeka voters decide whether all bars and restaurants must be smoke free.
Yes, we said bars and restaurants because that’s primarily what the issue has become. Government entities, from school districts, cities, counties and the state have banned smoking in their buildings. Many hospitals and other health care providers don’t allow smoking anywhere on the property. No one lights up in a retail store or an office building that serves the general public.
When someone is smoking inside these days, they almost always are in their vehicle, in their home or at a bar or restaurant that allows it. And those bars and restaurants that still do allow it are the primary targets of smoking ordinances, and the source of much of the opposition to such ordinances.
That there are some restaurants and bars in Topeka that prohibit smoking and turn a profit while doing so is evidence that the marketplace is capable of allowing consumers and business owners to decide the issue without government interference.
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