Our Opinion: The Smoking Ban Battle – Shaping The Debate

Not surprisingly, the effort to refer South Dakota’s recently-passed expansion of its smoking ban to a public vote took a big step forward this week when a group opposing the ban turned in petitions carrying an estimated 25,000 signatures. According to the secretary of state, at least 16,776 valid signatures are needed to place the ban on the November 2010 ballot.

If enough petitions are certified and the ban is referred, it will mean the new ban law will not go into effect next week as originally intended. The measure, passed by the Legislature during the last session, would extend the current smoking ban to cover almost all businesses and workplaces.

This whole petition business has really been little more than a warm-up for the battle that is to come over a very sensitive issue.

As we’ve stated previously, it is a battle that finds those supporting smoking in public places cast as underdogs. The trend in this state and across this country the past few decades has been toward the gradual containment and elimination of smoking, not only from public venues but in private practices. A 2007 Gallup poll found that only 21 percent of Americans smoke, the lowest the rate had been since the polling organization began quizzing the public on the matter back in 1944. The link between smoking and cancer has been well defined; second-hand smoke has emerged as an important new front in the battle against smoking and is the impetus for many pieces of legislation aimed at banning smoking in public. Thus, public perception on the issue is definitely working against the opponents of South Dakota’s ban.

That’s why the battle that looms ahead — assuming the measure is successfully referred — should be intriguing.

If the issue is allowed to become a referendum on smoking per se, the ban will certainly survive. That’s why those opposing the ban must work vigorously to portray it on other, more libertarian terms.

The ban’s opponents will certainly promote the valid point that the ban amounts to the government telling entrepreneurs how they will run their businesses. Those businesses that host video lottery machines, for instance, will also declare that the ban will hurt business, since smoking and gambling seem to go together like ashes and ashtrays.

Proponents of the ban will point to health issues that have served as such lively and effective ammunition in this battle for so long. And they will note that public health trumps the rights of business owners to keep their shop as they will. This is especially true in small communities where there are few options not only for entertainment but also for employment: Permitting smoking in businesses may pose a direct health risk to people in need of work but forced to work in conditions that threaten their health.

So, this battle will be waged over the turf of freedom: the freedom to do business versus the freedom of good health.

Assuming the measure is referred, it will be a fascinating and emotional debate.

source: http://www.yankton.net

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