Why ban smoking?

By EDITORIAL  |  February 21, 2008

On a practical level, locales that have tried to toughen their antismoking rules have found that they don’t always live up to the hype. Take Vermont. It requires the strict segregation of smokers and nonsmokers in restaurants but not in bars (or cabarets, as they are legally called in that state). Since those rules took effect, the number of licensed cabarets has increased fourfold as restaurants converted to serve their smoking patrons. California is already talking about relaxing its stringent new codes because of public opposition. And in New York, anecdotal evidence suggests that noncompliance is more widespread than officials care to admit.

The mayor is scheduled to present his proposal before the Public Health Commission this week. During the course of the subsequent public hearings, we’ll hear opponents argue that the proposal will hurt small establishments more than large ones, that 21 percent of the state’s regular restaurant patrons smoke, and that, proportionally, they contribute more dollars to restaurants than do nonsmokers. These are important points. But it is just as important to remember that although there is honest societal disagreement over smoking by adults, the reasonable compromise we have now — separate sections — already works well. In these pages, we’ve decried the demonization of marijuana and editorialized against overly emotional responses to underage drinking. In that same spirit, we argue that the mayor’s antismoking initiative is not only uncalled-for but goes too far.

Boston is supposed to be a sophisticated city, not a nanny state. Let businesspeople decide how best to meet the demands of the public. And let the public make up its own mind about where it wants to eat and drink.

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