LETTER FROM THE EDITOR - Smoking Ban May Become a Joke

Monday, January 12, 2009

Zip. Zero. Nada. It is in fact more likely that Britney Spears will become a nun this year than it is that you will get a $50 bust for sparking up in public.

To be honest, there aren't enough cops anywhere to enforce such a law equitably, even if we wanted our police to be tied up doing such a thing. Nobody particularly wants the court and collections system mucked up with tobacco scofflaws either.

In one case, a spunky county attorney told the state attorney general that the law is unjust, and that he will refuse to enforce it until it applies to all workplaces. NyahNyah.

Iowa Democrat leader Mike Gronstal growls that if county attorneys want to dictate the laws, then "They should run for the Legislature." Nice comeback, MG.

The state can't force local police to hand out tickets or counties to prosecute smokers. So it looks like they are turning to yanking bars' liquor licenses if they scoff at the law, instead. (Oh, by the way, the state makes $57 million per anum selling its citizens hootch, and $10 mill on booze licenses. They are beginning to nibble the cuticles of the hand that feeds them.)

The comment I hear most often is that while the state protects us from an annoying hacking cough, the air is now clear enough to better see to drink yourself stupid to heart's content. Fair enough, but it should be pointed out that bars are not the only places the ban applies to. And they aren't the only places failing to enforce the law, either.

Here's a juicy bit of irony for you - the Iowa Capitol Complex, where the law was created, has been cited for violating its own ban, twice. And it hasn't paid a fine. Pikers!

Iowa State University is a repeat offender, so is the City of Des Moines. A library, the Carroll newspaper office, and strangely enough, Butterfly Kisses Day Care are among the Al Capones of Iowa smoking violation.

According to a Des Moines Register report, one Buena Vista County business is a repeat offender. Most have complied with the law, whether they agree with it or not, because - well because they are law-abiding people.

I'm not totally sure that a fine would even stand if it was challenged. Article One of the Constitution of the United States does not grant government any specific power to regulate such things as smoking - in fact, the Constitution had to be amended in order to enact prohibition of alcohol.

Without question, there's more good to the ban than bad. People can eat out in a restaurant without having to snort other people's fumes, and you can take your kids to public places without clouds of second-hand smoke. You can expect to work in a atmosphere with clear air, farts excluded, and it's all good.

Bars, I'm torn about. The guys who are complying stand to lose business and money to the ones that ignore the law. Nobody is forced to hang out in bars or work in them, it's a choice to be exposed. You might hope some would be smoke-free for customers who want that, ban or no ban. The question becomes how much our government is allowed to try to control our behavior.

My hat's off (thus the bad hair day) to the guys and gals I see standing outside the taverns and other businesses for their smoke, even in horrific weather. While their actions may not be healthy, they are trying to follow the law and take other people into consideration, and not whining much in the process, and that's a very Iowan thing to do.

As Iowa legislators gather in Des Moines, there will be considerable pressure - from one side to withdraw the ban, and from the other to begin to enforce it.

Really, all they should do is get rid of the hypocitical "exception" for casinos. What is fair for one business is fair for all, period.

Eventually though, it isn't laws that are going to improve health.

Instead of spending a fortune on local cops and courts to police naughty smokers, the state can indeed see that business licenses are removed if too many people complain.

It will be cheaper, and the money we save can be put into programs to help the people who actually want to quit smoking to get it done. This past year, the local public health office offered a program for free nicotine patches or gum to help people, and it seemed promising enough to expand a campaign to all health agencies all the time, I think.

After all, are we out to make more healthy people, or more "criminals"?