City can do everyone a favor by enforcing its smoking law
State health officials want Decatur to outlaw smoking in all public buildings.
"No city bars it completely. It would be wonderful if Decatur would take the lead," said Joy Rhodes-Watkins, tobacco prevention and control coordinator for the Department of Public Health.
Wonderful for whom? There is a reason no other city bans smoking completely.
Would it be wonderful for business owners, who would have no choice but to lose customers to neighboring communities with more sensible laws? Would it be wonderful for smokers, who would choose to drive to Athens, Madison or Huntsville to do business?
Non-smokers would enjoy a smoke-free environment. Many smokers would also prefer not to inhale second-hand smoke while dining or when out with their children.
But rather than place a rigid and unprecedented mandate on business owners, the city should enforce the sensible smoking ordinance it has on the books.
That law, in effect since 1993 but rarely enforced, prohibits smoking in most public areas. Sensible exceptions include tobacco shops, bars or lounges separated from restaurants, and restaurants between midnight and 5 a.m. Barriers must separate designated smoking areas and ventilation systems are required in those places where smoking is allowed.
With the existing ordinance, business owners have a choice of prohibiting smoking on their premises or allowing smoking in designated, segregated areas. Some have chosen the former, and customers who appreciate a smoke-free environment have a choice, as Council President Billy Jackson noted, to support those establishments.
But most businesses have chosen the latter rather than lose customers who smoke. Those businesses have an obligation to protect their non-smoking customers from the dangers of second-hand smoke. And the city has an obligation to enforce its ordinance. It is something we can all live with.