California dreaming on anti-smoking law

January 09, 1998

An excerpt of an Akron (Ohio) Beacon Journal Wednesday editorial: IN the Southwest corner, winner and undisputed symbol of the nanny state, let's hear it for California. The state where even strip joints must be wheelchair accessible -- for the strippers -- has the distinction of being the first state in the nation to outlaw smoking in most bars and gambling casinos.

As with most Golden State weirdness, there's a grain of sense in this law. Bartenders and servers, many of whom do not smoke, are exposed to secondhand smoke from their customers.

Nationwide, smoking has been banned in airplanes and most public and private buildings. Many restaurants either prohibit smoking or consign their customers who smoke to a specific section.

There is no doubt that smoking cigarettes is not healthy. It would be better if people chose not to smoke. But they should retain that choice.

The people who own bars and casinos on Indian reservations must be cheering. The new law exempts them, which means the government has just created an immediate new market for those Indian-owned establishments. It's also where the logic of the law breaks down. Are the workers on reservations, mostly Native Americans, less deserving of protection from the evils of secondhand smoke than other bartenders and servers?

Then there's the question of enforcement. No one has yet been arrested for lighting up in a California bar, but it's only a matter of time. If jails aren't full enough of robbers, drug dealers and other assorted felons, the criminal cigarette-and-beer crowd will surely push them over the edge.

Californians just voted to outlaw affirmative action. So we have a situation in which the state says people must earn their way in life strictly on merit, but those same people don't merit the opportunity to make choices -- good or bad -- about their own health.

Only in California.

Pub Date: 1/09/98

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