Where to draw the line?

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Where is the line drawn between protecting people from themselves and outright government interference?

A smoke-free ordinance to be presented at the May 7 Alabaster City Council meeting begs that question.

The ordinance, if approved, would ban smoking in all public establishments, including restaurants, bars and offices.

We all know the dangers of smoking and second hand smoke. The public is constantly confronted with public service messages about it.

Cigarettes carry the warnings on the packages they come in. But despite bans on advertising on television, the government has always stopped short of stepping on the public&8217;s right to choose.

Cigarettes and other tobacco products continue to be manufactured and sold in this country.

While some restaurants divided into smoking and nonsmoking sections years ago, its only recently that some have banned smoking all together.

Ultimately, it has always been left to the consumer to decide to put up with second-hand smoke or not.

It is argued that a smoking ban would hurt business.

Others say there is no credible evidence of this. And some businesses are investing in ventilation systems to provide for the benefit of their smoking and nonsmoking patrons.

While we do not endorse an all out smoking ban on public establishments or say that such action is not a good thing, the question of an individual&8217;s rights versus government enforcement of regulations to protect the public health, is tricky and difficult to answer.

We think the consideration of the Alabaster ordinance is a good place for that debate to begin.