The Smoke-on-me State

The following editorial appeared in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch one day before news of the near-unanimous approval of the first reading of Clayton’s proposed comprehensive smoke-free air ordinance.

By the way, many years ago I coined the name “Smoke-Me State” to describe Missouri, a play on the “Show-Me State” moniker.

North Carolina goes smoke-free. Why can’t we?
By St. Louis Post-Dispatch Editorial Board
Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Time was when having a drink in a North Carolina bar meant having a cigarette, too — or at least inhaling a few coffin nails’ worth of tobacco smoke.

Times have changed.

The nation’s largest tobacco-producing state just became the latest state with a clean indoor air law. Beginning Jan. 1, it will be illegal to smoke inside North Carolina bars and restaurants. North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue signed the law in Raleigh, next door to Durham, the historic headquarters of Big Tobacco.

At the same time, city officials in Clayton were debating a proposal that would prohibit smoking in public places there. St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay has said that he wants to enact a similar law.

St. Louis-area officials have been saying that for at least 15 years, yet smoking still is allowed in most restaurants and bars on this side of the Mississippi River.

Meanwhile, Missouri is in no immediate danger of joining North Carolina, Illinois or any of the other 25 states with clean indoor air laws. A proposed smoking ban introduced by state Sen. Joan Bray, D-University City, never got out of committee before the Legislature adjourned on May 15.

Word was that suburban St. Louis city councils were meeting to discuss anti-smoking ordinances. Warning letters were dispatched quickly, reading in part:

“Our Public Issues Department is encouraging Smokers’ Rights Groups to protest. An important element in defeating these measures would be the participation of customers and smokers.”

That letter, from an anonymous employee of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco, was dated July 24, 1990. It’s just one among millions of tobacco industry documents made public after lawsuits filed by state attorneys general were settled in 1998.

But while the geography has changed — the 1990 letter was written in response to proposed bans in Chesterfield and Brentwood — the playbook remains the same.

On May 12, Clayton’s Board of Aldermen heard bar and restaurant owners and their workers warn that a smoking ban would result in businesses closing. That’s the same message Big Tobacco was peddling back in 1990, along with now-discredited junk science questioning the health effects of secondhand smoke.

It’s the same line officials in North Carolina and Illinois and New York and South Dakota and every other state that already has approved clean indoor air laws have heard, too.
It wasn’t persuasive in those states, and it shouldn’t be persuasive here either.

The logic of restricting smoking in public places is undeniable. The overwhelming majority of people don’t smoke. They have the right to breathe clean air, not someone else’s dangerous and dirty tobacco smoke.

Smokers argue that markets, not the government, should dictate how business is conducted. It’s a specious argument. We don’t allow companies to spew poison into the air or water simply because they can make money doing it and their customers don’t object.

The U.S. Surgeon General reports that secondhand smoke kills about 38,000 people every year and sickens hundreds of thousands of others.

Restaurants and bars are among businesses that are least likely to provide health insurance to their employees, so when their workers get sick from the effects of secondhand smoke, the rest of us get stuck with the tab for their care.

Workplace smoking may be good for tobacco companies’ bottom lines, but it is hazardous to the rest of us. Non-smokers on Tobacco Road in North Carolina soon will have more rights than non-smokers in Missouri. This is crazy.

2 responses to “The Smoke-on-me State

  1. Some day, thanks to Martin and others, we’ll wonder how we lived with smoky places for so long.

  2. Many in our society use pro “business” reasons for anti proactive positions. How well has business or anything else fared in the U.S. based on fear tactics?

    Fear tactics are effective when people distrust facts. Red herrings are distractions fed to those who will fall for paralyzing arguments instead of life enhancing scientific information.

    Citizens allow corporations, politicians and self interest groups to buy time by hiding behind red herrings. Meanwhile we citizens pay for others health care and our own reduced quality of life.

    Why isn’t tobacco smoke considered a level 6 pandemic threat?

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