SADOW: Smokers vs. Non-Smokers In North Louisiana

Alexandria started it, Ouachita Parish and its major cities may extend it, and that would leave Shreveport/Bossier as the last redoubt of permitted indoor smoking in north Louisiana.

The Louisiana Campaign for Tobacco-Free Living requested the cities of Monroe and West Monroe and the Ouachita Parish Police Jury to consider an ordinance that would ban entirely indoor smoking in places of public commerce, going beyond state law that does not ban it in establishments that primarily act as bars and in gambling locations. Apparently, private lodgings would not be covered. Monroe’s City Council will take up such an ordinance next week.

Often, the narrative surrounding the issue of where smoking should be permitted gets framed in terms of smokers having rights to light up, or in other to engage in a certain kind of behavior. Often ignored is the liberty of others not to have fumes from tobacco intrude upon their breathing. Opponents of these bans say the resolution is to let the market decide, for if there’s enough demand for smoke-free watering holes (places where the majority of sales are food already have smoking indoors banned) or bingo halls, they will be supplied.

But it’s not as simple as that because smoking is not just an inconvenience to some people. At least 12.7 million adult Americans are under diagnoses of suffering various forms of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, but the number could be twice as high, which would mean about eight percent of the population. People with this condition would have difficulty breathing in a smoke-filled environment and, ironically, the most common associative behavior with those who develop COPD is smoking.

Others in smaller numbers suffer from worse pulmonary difficulties, and often not of their own choosing. For example, somebody with a genetic disease such as muscular dystrophy may find themselves having to breathe through mechanical ventilation. For such a person, one whiff of smoke could send them into immediate if not life-threatening pulmonary distress.

While these people do not comprise a large potential customer base, the roll of those potentially adversely affected also includes employees of these establishments. Thus, somebody with COPD has their choice of jobs circumscribed not because the inherent duties of the jobs are beyond their capabilities, but because of an environment they are working in that has nothing to do with the service being provided, but instead is created by the voluntary behavior of patrons.

And that is why, in this clash of rights, the case for allowing indoor smoking is not compelling. People should have the right to be able to work without having a non-bonafide occupational qualification preclude that. Potential patrons in the stream of interstate commerce who face physical limitations should not be limited in their choices to patronize not because they are unable to access the service but because of the actions of others, based upon chosen behaviors they are allowed to impose on the indoor environment.

Where the rights of those who physically cannot choose to tolerate a behavior of others clash with those of those who can choose to engage in the behavior and still access the same service without acting that way, the former must be given preference. Smokers can patronize nonsmoking establishments without physical distress, but the same is not true for some nonsmokers concerning smoking establishments. By definition, the curtailment of liberty of the affected nonsmokers is greater, more consequential, and more fundamental in that they are excluded from certain commerce, while smokers suffer no such exclusion, and their inability to smoke in these places of commerce is less consequential and fundamental simply because they choose their behavior, while the others cannot choose their physical limitations.

Tobacco addicts would not be prohibiting from smoking in public; the proposed Monroe ordinance, for example, allows them to light up more than 15 feet from an entrance to an indoor place. That might not work well for some places, but the solution is, as they often advocate in support of smoking indoors, market-based: businesses that have plenty of available outdoor space 15 or more feet away from a door can attract smokers, and businesses wishing to cater to them can design their accommodations to provide that kind of buffer.

No group that chooses to behave in a certain way should have its preferences take precedence over those whose physical limitations are not a matter of option or behavior when that behavior has nothing to do with the business itself. These ordinances should pass in Ouachita Parish, as happened nearly two years ago in Alexandria, and Caddo and Bossier governments would be wise to emulate here.

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