Missouri, 10/10/06– At 1:00am last night, after 4 1/2 hours of public testimony, the Columbia (Missouri) City Council voted in favor of smoke-free workplace legislation. Beginning January 9, virtually all workplaces, including restaurants and bars, will be required to provide safe, clean indoor air.
Both the public testimony and the council’s debate centered on a key theme: When do public health concerns trump the rights of private business owners, and those of smokers?
In the same indoor air space, the right to breathe clean air and the right to pollute cannot coincide simultaneously. Somebody’s right has to prevail. In the end, Columbia decided that the right to breath clean indoor air was more important than the right to pollute.
Mayor Darwin Hindman cited “overwhelming evidence” that secondhand smoke is bad for people, and said it is smokers who must give some leeway. “Whose freedom should be limited? the Mayor asked. “I think it should be the smoker’s freedom that should be limited.”
“This is not an effort to vilify smokers in any way,” said Dean Andersen, co-director of the Boone County Coalition for Tobacco Concerns. “This is a health issue, not a moral issue.”
Recounting data about the negative effects of secondhand smoke, Andersen argued that the council’s role was clear. “Protecting the health and safety of our community is a primary purpose of local government.”
“Secondhand smoke causes disease and premature death… It’s time for local government to do what they are supposed to do, protect the health and safety of their community,” Andersen said.