Nebraskans quite civilized about ban

Implementation of Nebraska’s statewide smoking ban has gone amazingly well.

Residents and state officials should pat themselves on the back for the smoothness of this major transition in social policy and personal habit.

The calm is in marked contrast to the lengthy and fiery debate that accompanied the passage of the ban by the Legislature. Nebraska was just the 16th state to approve a statewide ban.

Since the ban on smoking in public buildings and private businesses went into effect on June 1, 2009, state officials received only 134 complaints of violations, according to The Associated Press. One third of those complaints came in the first month. The rate quickly slowed.

Most of the complaints were dealt with expeditiously. The only case in which state officials were forced to seek a court order occurred in Broken Bow. The case against Henry “Fred” Schumacher, owner of Sylvester’s Bar and Lounge, is still pending. He was fined a total of $500 on three counts.

One reason for the successful implementation may be that local smoking bans already covered Lincoln and Omaha, the state’s two largest cities, as well as Grand Island and Humboldt. Those communities already had adjusted.

Another reason may be that the Legislature allowed more than a year for businesses to prepare for the ban. State and local officials used the time to educate the public and businesses about the requirements of the ban.

It wasn’t difficult to make the case on why the ban is needed.

“The debate is over. The science is clear: Secondhand smoke is not a mere annoyance, but a serious health hazard. Workplace smoking restrictions are effective in reducing secondhand smoke exposure,” former U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona said when a landmark study was released in 2006. “There is no risk-free level of secondhand smoke exposure, with even brief exposure adversely affecting the cardiovascular and respiratory system.”

Also easing the transition was overwhelming public support for the ban. Official state surveys showed support of more than 80 percent both before and after the ban was implemented.

A survey conducted from June to September after the ban was implemented showed that about 89 percent of respondents said they were going to restaurants as much or more after the ban went into effect. Eight-one percent said they were going to bars and night clubs as much or more than before.

A few years from now, most people will have trouble remembering what the fuss was all about.

In fact, Nebraska residents may be caught unaware when they travel. After growing accustomed to smoke-free restaurants and bars, it’s a rude surprise when someone at the next table lights up in a smoking state. Nebraskans should be pleased their state already has taken this important step toward better health.


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