Smoking Ban Can’t Come Soon Enough

By Steve Adubato, Ph.D. Consider these staggering numbers. Nearly 1.2 million New Jerseyans smoke. Almost 20,000 New Jersey teenagers become smokers every day. Each year in our state, 11,000 die from tobacco-related causes. And as for the argument that smokers are only wreaking havoc on their own bodies, consider this: $2.5 billion is spent on direct medical expenses related to smoking, which doesn’t even include the impact of secondhand smoke. Further, employers are getting killed by their workers’ smoking. According to the New Jersey Department of Health, tobacco costs New Jersey employers and workers $2.2 billion annually in lost worker productivity. All these numbers are just the tip of the iceberg at how devastating and disgusting smoking is to smokers and those around them. So for those of us who have been railing against smoking and trying to warn of its dangers, New Jersey’s new law banning smoking in all public places (except cigar clubs and casinos) can’t be signed soon enough. Governor Dick Codey will sign the bill next week and the law will take effect in April. This is a tremendous victory but it has taken far too long. For too many years workers and customers in restaurants, bars and other establishments have been subjected to secondhand smoke and dangerous carcinogens all because those who are nicotine-addicted believe they have some sort of convoluted “right” to blow smoke in other people’s faces. Predictably, smoker„s rights groups are up in arms, livid that the smoking ban in public places is soon to take effect. They say things like, “Smoking and drinking go together,” or “My neighborhood bar is like my second home. I should be able to do what I want there.” They also accuse the government of being too “intrusive” and trampling their rights as citizens to do as they please. These arguments are absurd. The neighborhood bar is not your home. Relax, smokers, you will still have the right to smoke in your own home, even if it effects the health of other family members, including your own children. As for smoking and drinking going together, think about that. Drinking and fighting sometimes go together as well, but we also have laws against punching someone in the face in a bar. It’s called assault. Sometimes it is even called attempted murder and the fact that you are in a bar drinking doesn’t make it okay, does it? And about the government being too “intrusive,”and trampling your rights, that„s a funny one. Local health departments don’t let you spit on the floor or table in a restaurant, because it„s not only disgusting but it could potentially impact those around you. It’s why you don’t have the right to yell “fire” in a crowded theater, because it puts other people at risk. Any way some smokers try to spin it, you simply don’t have the right to put other people and their health at risk, just because you want to do it to yourself. So finally, the legislature and our outgoing Governor Dick Codey have stepped up to put an end to all this insanity. New York City did it several years ago when many said it couldn’t or shouldn’t be done. So as is sometimes the case, we in New Jersey do something positive in the shadow of New York, but it„s better late than never. I do have some empathy for businesses who argue they may be hurt by the smoking ban, but the fact is, any business whose economic model is based on the ability of patrons to put the health of other patrons at risk is seriously flawed. Smoking in restaurants and bars never should have been allowed in the first place, but the tobacco, liquor and restaurant lobbies were simply too strong for too long and had a strangle hold on legislators who were afraid to stand up and do the right thing. There may be some short-term economic impact to certain bars and restaurants, but the “ventilations” systems that were set up to protect non-smoking customers were never adequate. The idea of “separating” smokers from non-smokers in restaurants was laughable at best. It„s as if we expected all this nasty smoke to make a u-turn or evaporate just as it was getting to patrons whose lungs were clear and wanted them to stay that way. Simply put, smokers have been allowed to do what they should have never been allowed to do for way too long in the first place. It was wrong then, and as we’ve learned more about the dangers of secondhand smoke, it„s even more wrong now. For me and millions of other non-smokers who just want to go to a restaurant with our families and enjoy a meal without smoke in our faces and smelly clothes when we get home, April can’t come soon enough. Let the smoking ban begin and let us finally start clearing the air in the “Garden State.”