Smokers have only themselves to blame for smoking ban

Smokers have only themselves to blame for smoking

The issue: On the fifth anniversary of Illinois’ indoor smoking ban, many cigarette smokers are still upset, even angry, about it, saying their rights have been violated.

Our view: There is no “right to smoke.” Therefore, governments are allowed to restrict smoking if they so choose. In Illinois, adults over 21 must follow certain rules when they use this legal product, one of which is a ban on smoking in an indoor public space.

Some of our fellow citizens long for the “good old days” when people smoked cigarettes virtually anywhere they wanted to smoke them. Most homes, offices and workplaces, restaurants, bars and other businesses supplied ashtrays, sometimes matches, for smokers. Although the indoor air quality of such places was noxious and, some experts say, toxic to people, even to smokers, the acceptance of cigarette smoking was not questioned.

As science began to link cigarettes to lung cancer and severe respiratory disease, the American public, thanks to a very aggressive anti-smoking public relations media campaign, changed its opinion about smoking’s acceptability.

First, “non-smoking” seating in restaurants became the norm, although those areas were often not very smoke-free, situated as they often were right next to smoking zones. Finally, five years ago, Illinois politicians got the votes to pass an indoor smoking ban in all public places.

Mention the smoking ban, even today, and get ready for an earful from smokers still stinging from what they see as a violation of their right to smoke.

You will hear folks say the government has no right to interfere with a business that allows patrons to smoke; it is private property after all. Others say prohibiting smoking hurts businesses whose patrons want to fire up indoors. And, finally, the ban is an attack on freedom, liberty and a citizen’s right to smoke.

Well, no, no and no.

One important fact not always understood is the definition of a public place. According to the website USLegal.com, “A public place is generally an indoor or outdoor area, whether privately or publicly owned, to which the public has access by right or by invitation, expressed or implied, whether by payment of money or not, but not a place when used exclusively by one or more individuals for a private gathering or other personal purpose.”

So yes, a bar is a privately owned business, but it’s open to the public, therefore a public place where smoking can be banned.

What about the impact on businesses such as bars, restaurants and casinos? Surely, those places have seen a loss of income due to the smoking ban?

Not really. According to a recent study conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan, the 2010 smoking ban in Michigan has had no significant negative impact on sales over all at bars, restaurants and casinos. There were, however, economic consequences for individual businesses: Some restaurants saw increases in business while others saw decreases in business. In spite of these fluctuations, the researchers found, there has been no adverse impact on business as a whole.

Here in Illinois at a press conference last week, state Sen. Terry Link, a sponsor of the smoking ban law, said the Illinois Liquor Control Commission issued 500 more liquor licenses last year than in the year before the ban took effect, according to the Chicago Sun Times.

Possibly the biggest misconception in the battle of the cigarette butts is the notion of a “right to smoke.” There is no right to smoke.

According to Samantha K. Graff of the Tobacco Control Legal Consortium and author of “There Is No Right to Smoke,” the U.S. Constitution does not extend special protection to smokers. Smoking is not a specially protected  right under the Due Process Clause of the Constitution. The fundamental right to privacy does not apply to smoking. Smokers are not a specially protected category of people under the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution.

Because there is no specially protected right to smoke, Graff writes, government indeed has a right to pass laws regulating tobacco use in public.

All that being said, however, the state’s citizen smokers could band together and accumulate enough political clout to snuff out the ban on indoor cigarette smoking.

But a recent American Lung Association poll found that 70 percent of Illinois residents and more than half of smokers approve of the ban. The same survey also revealed that the percentage of adult Illinois smokers has dropped from 23.6 percent in 2003 to 16.9 percent in 2010. Deaths from heart disease and lung cancer — both tied to smoking — have declined as well.

So it’s doubtful the will to overturn the smoking ban exists.

While we might feel sympathy for friends and relatives who now find themselves banished to the sidewalk to smoke, it is an unfortunate fact of life that, over the years, all too many smokers were rude to non-smokers when they lit up.

There was no consideration for others, no keeping the smoke outdoors, and few apologies for blowing smoke in a non-smoker’s breathing space. There was, and still is, an arrogance about smoking in some quarters, with prevailing opinion that anybody who does not like the smoke should just leave. Even now, look on the ground outside most bars and you will find cigarette butts left by smokers for other people to pick up.

What these smokers forgot was a very simple statement by one of the most quoted and the longest serving U.S. Supreme Court Justices, Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. He said, “The right to swing my fist ends where the other man’s nose begins.” While Holmes was not talking about cigarette smoking, it’s very obvious how it applies in this case.

Had smokers remembered that quote and applied it when smoking, perhaps the backlash against smoking in public would not have been so severe.