Writing@CSU Home Page | Writing Gallery | Talking Back | Volume 2, Issue 1

logoEasy Breathing for the Public?


Tracy Seiler


            Have you ever been in your favorite restaurant and just as you are about to take a bite of your favorite dish,  your lungs are filled with a cloud of smoke which has drifted to your table from the smoking section just a few feet away?  This is a common complaint of many patrons who enjoy dining at restaurants.  While it is true that the smoke from cigarettes causes many health problems, is it fair to take away the freedom of Americans who wish to smoke?  Even as compromises can be made on this subject, the majority of people stand by their strong opinions on whether smoking should be allowed in restaurants.

Smoking is a simple process of inhaling and exhaling the fumes of burning tobacco, but it has deadly consequences.  According to the American Cancer Society, smoking is the most preventable cause of death in America today (Encarta, 2002).  Until the 1940’s, smoking was considered harmless.  It was at this time that epidemiologists noticed a dramatic increase in the cases of lung cancer.  A study was then conducted between smokers and nonsmokers to determine if cigarettes were the cause of this increase.  This study, conducted by the American Cancer Society, found increased mortality among smokers. Yet it was not until 1964 that the Surgeon General put out a report acknowledging the danger of cigarettes.  The first action to curb smoking was the mandate of a warning on cigarette packages by the Federal Trade Commission (Encarta, 2002).  In 1971, all cigarette advertising was banned from radio and television, and cities and states passed laws requiring nonsmoking sections in public places and workplaces (Encarta, 2002).  Now in some cities smoking is being completely banned from public places and workplaces and various people are striving for more of these laws against smoking.

            Most people are aware of the risks associated with smoking and many people who do not smoke are concerned about the risks of secondhand smoke.  Even employees in restaurants have a 50 percent higher risk of lung cancer than the general public (Buckley, 2002, p. 63).  Also, Harvard researchers found that women who were regularly exposed to other people’s smoke at home or at work were 91 percent more likely to have a heart attack than those who weren’t exposed (Will You Pay, 1998, p. 1).  But now a study done by Alcoholism & Drug Abuse Weekly found that since bans of smoking in restaurants have been implemented, the exposure to secondhand smoke has dropped (Study Finds Exposure, 2001, p. 7).  This recent study suggests that the bans put on restaurants may already be positively affecting society.

In addition to these studies, many articles are published describing the risks of smoking in order to persuade the public to agree with the new laws.  These articles also target people who already do smoke in hopes of encouraging them to give up the habit.  This approach seems to be working, too.  From 1965 to 1994, the proportion of current smokers dropped from 42 percent to 26 percent (Will You Pay, 1998, p. 1).  Yet this is still a problem since tobacco kills 4.2 million people annually (Who Has the Power, 2002, p. 267).  And many of these people that die are people that are involuntarily exposed to tobacco smoke.

            Opposing these laws are the people, for the majority, who do smoke and wish to have the freedom to smoke in public places.  They believe that it is not fair to have their rights taken away by these bans when they live in a country where they are promised equality.  William F. Buckley Jr. wrote an article to bring to light discrimination against smokers.  He asked a legal philosopher, “Is smoking a civil right?” the answer was, “That’s easy, your civil right nowadays is for others not to smoke” (Buckley, 2002, p. 63).  While this is true, is it fair?  How can some interest groups be favored while others are discriminated against?  In the United States of America all people are to be created equal, yet the government is making rules that seem to go against this belief.  We have developed a culture that gives non-smokers all of the freedom and leaves no compromise for the people who do smoke.  Buckley (2002) points out how there is no known safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke, which means that bans are going to have to be made in more places than just restaurants and workplaces (p. 63).  So where is Congress going to draw the line?  Maybe they should be looking for other options than just blindly going forth with more and more laws.

            In fact, there are options to reduce the exposure of smoke in public that do not need any laws.  One option is to have selective restaurants that allow smoking.  Restaurants that are more family-oriented may not allow any smoking at all inside of their building, while other restaurants, such as bars, might allow to have smoking as long as there is an option for people who do not wish to sit next those who are smoking. 

Another option is to install better ventilation systems in buildings.  These systems would be a fair compromise that would make everyone happy.  Even Phillip Morris acknowledges the importance of enhanced ventilation (Hospitality Owners, 2002, p. 14).  All a restaurant needs to do is set up a system where the smoking section has negative air pressure.  This keeps any smoke from drifting into the non-smoking section of the restaurant.  The air from the smoking area then will be either exhausted outside or filtered with a multifaceted filtration system to address all the contaminants that are in the cigarette smoke (Turpin, 2002, p.92).  While none of the articles discuss the cost of these ventilation systems, it must be worth it to keep customers.  In California, more than 80 percent of the bars and about 60 per cent of the restaurants have lost revenues due to the state’s smoking ban (Hospitality Owners, 2002, p. 14).  These compromises should be observed more closely by Congress than they are.

            While it has been proven that smoking is very dangerous to the public’s health, unequal rights are not fair to the public either.  People in society have many views on this topic ranging from those with strong opinions to those who just want to eat and do not care.  Yet all people are affected by the ban of smoking in restaurants.  To favor one group and look down upon another goes against everything America stands for.  There are compromises available to solve this problem and society needs to be informed of these options so they can vote on a solution. 




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