OUR OPINION: Public support should move state on smoking

By NEMS Daily Journal

When public opinion moves on an issue, the politicians usually aren’t far behind.
Public opinion is demonstrably solid in favor of a statewide smoking ban in most indoor public places, but the Legislature hasn’t yet shown signs of getting the message.
Results of a scientific statewide poll released last week by Smokefree Mississippi, a coalition of organizations pushing the ban, provide new and strong evidence on public support for such a move. The question was simple and unequivocal: “Would you favor or oppose a law in Mississippi that would prohibit smoking in indoor public places, including workplaces, public buildings, offices, casinos, restaurants and bars?”
No room for misunderstanding or misinterpretation there.
The result: 68 percent said yes, 29 percent no. That’s a landslide in any political context, and according to the Washington-based firm that conducted the poll, Public Opinion Strategies, it was about the same among Republicans, Democrats and independents – bipartisan consensus in an era when that’s a rarity.
People understand the issue from two perspectives: 1) the health hazards of breathing second-hand smoke – 87 percent of the poll respondents believe it’s hazardous – and 2) the simple displeasure and annoyance caused by smelling and breathing other people’s smoke.
The principal argument forwarded by opponents of indoor public smoking bans is that somehow smoking is a “right” that shouldn’t be infringed upon. It’s a freedom issue, in other words.
This is nonsense. No one has the “right” to spread toxic chemicals into the air in a public gathering place, putting other people’s health at risk.
Another argument is that business owners should have the freedom to decide what they’ll permit. The public health risks associated with second-hand smoke make that argument unconvincing.
Mississippians are the unhealthiest people in the nation to start with, and that reality costs all of us in many ways. It just makes sense to take prudent steps that will improve public health and save taxpayer dollars in the long run.
Smoking in indoor public places has ceased to be an issue in Tupelo and other cities in Northeast Mississippi and around the state that have enacted their own restrictions. City ordinances have made restaurants and other public places more healthy – not to mention more pleasant – for everyone, and establishments haven’t experienced the business losses some predicted.
The 100-plus organizations involved in the push for a statewide smoking ban clearly have the public on their side. Now the question is whether the policymakers will respond.