Demonization of tobacco expands with statewide ban

Saturday, February 23, 2008

The demonization of tobacco took one more step Friday as 34 of the Unicameral's 49 members voted in favor of a bill to ban smoking in bars, restaurants and all other workplaces in the state, except for retail tobacco shops, designated hotel rooms and places where smoking research is done.

Opponents feel betrayed by the sponsor of the measure, who agreed to a clause allowing cities and counties to opt out, but then backed out when the bill, LB395, was ready for a final vote.

If Gov. Dave Heineman signs the bill -- or perhaps even if he doesn't, since it passed by a veto-proof margin -- the law will go into effect a year from June 1.

Healthy living proponents lauded the measure, saying it will be among the strictest in the country, and should help reduce cancer and other smoking-related diseases and protect nonsmokers from second-hand smoke.

Opponents such as outstate bar owners say it is an intrusion on their right to conduct business as they see fit, and may even make it hard to sell their business.

We have to agree that any reduction in smoking is bound to improve public health, and nonsmokers shouldn't be subjected to someone else's bad habit.

Smoking is undoubtedly an unhealthy habit. But so is eating junk food, failure to get enough exercise and any number of other activities.

We have to wonder where the tide of judicial enforcement of clean living might end.

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