EDITORIAL: Up in smoke

By NEMS Daily Journal

The Mississippi Senate this week passed the virtually meaningless version of a bill originally designed to prohibit smoking in indoor public places.
The Public Health Committee had stripped the bill down to a smoking ban in government buildings, which committee chairman Hob Bryan, D-Amory, says is probably current law anyway. The full Senate went along with this gutting, but the House shouldn’t.
House Public Health chairman Steve Holland, D-Plantersville, said he’ll take the bill up only if he’s convinced that a strengthened version applying to all public places can pass the full chamber. The bill that passed the Senate, Holland said, is meaningless.
He’s right about that, but the bill should be kept alive as a vehicle for restoring a comprehensive statewide smoking ban in public places. Surely there are House members who are willing to take up the cause of protecting innocent bystanders from the toxic assault of smokers nearby.
The federal Centers for Disease Control says the evidence is conclusive: Second-hand smoke raises the health risks of the non-smokers who are forced to inhale it.
Mississippi is the least healthiest state in the nation with heart disease and cancer rates at or near the top. Banning second-hand smoke is a public health issue, pure and simple. Voluntary smoking is the biggest preventable cause of disease there is. For people who choose not to smoke to be exposed to the risks further aggravates the rate of disease and the public health costs.
Tupelo and 36 other Mississippi municipalities have ordinances that prohibit smoking in indoor public places. These communities have been laboratories that have proven smoking bans are workable and enforceable – not to mention a positive incentive for the majority, the non-smokers, to get out and spend money in restaurants and other businesses.
A statewide law is the logical next step.
The main argument against such a law is that it infringes on the rights of smokers, and to a lesser degree, the businesses that allow smoking. But rights that directly infringe upon the rights of others – in this case, the right not to be poisoned – lose their claim to be rights at all.
Public health advocates, including state Health Officer Dr. Mary Currier, will be pressing their case in the House as the bill moves over. We hope Holland will give his committee the opportunity to strengthen it, send it to the House floor for a vote and then back to the Senate.
The prospects don’t appear bright that anything different would happen in the Senate at that point – unless interested Mississippians made themselves heard. It is, after all, an election year.