A Letter in the 2/6/07 Tomahawk Leader
To the Editor:
An open letter regarding the proposed, statewide smoking ban:
I am encouraging legislators to quickly approve the smoking ban for indoor public places, such as restaurants and bars. For me, this is not just a public health issue, but an occupational health concern.
As an environmental health inspector and non-smoker, I am forced to breathe copious amounts of second-hand smoke in establishments I visit on a daily basis. One unsympathetic restaurant operator recently suggested that if I didn’t like the smoke, I should get another job.
Those that share the restaurant operator’s view that the choice to allow smoking should remain with the establishment owner either fail to recognize or disregard the public health and occupational health aspects of a proposed ban.
For example, for obvious public health reasons, the state already prohibits smoking by workers in areas where food is stored or prepared. Restaurant owners do not have a choice of whether their employees can smoke while preparing food, because the risk is high that engaging in that activity while preparing food will likely transmit harmful biological agents that can cause illness and suffering to the public.
The same argument may be applied to implement a statewide smoking ban. Only in this case, the health effects take longer to appear, and have a much greater potential to be seriously adverse and permanent. And instead of taking the form of a biological agent, the diseases are dispensed through the dozens of chemical agents in the smoke that wafts in the air.
Not unlike uncontrolled leaf burning, smoking is different from other owner-rights issues because hazardous solids and liquids released into the environment are more easily controlled than ionizing radiation, toxic gases or smoke. As our understanding of the public health threat from second-hand smoke evolves, so too should our restriction on that activity in public places.
Less than 100 years ago, there was no ban or law against consumer products containing ionizing radiation like glow-in-the-dark watch hands. But we know have such laws because we understand the public health threat ionizing radiation poses to people.
My hope is the state’s view on this matter also evolves to protect the public, and workers like me.
Oneida County Health Department