John Howell Column

Published 12:00 am Friday, March 12, 2010

John Howell Sr.

City officials made right choice with smoking ban

For a week we’ve been bombarded with whining, sky-is-falling, bellyachin’ complaints from people pillorying city officials for the new, comprehensive smoking ban that took affect March 5.

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Get over it.

Batesville aldermen simply took a bold, proactive step to protect the health of citizens and visitors. On the side of their decision is overwhelming — overwhelming — medical evidence that secondhand smoke is harmful, that it can seriously affect the health of people who are not smokers themselves but who inhale the exhaust and flotsam of those who are.

And for that, they’ve been made objects of a diatribe (and a sub-literate diatribe at that) of hysteria so shrill that you’d think that the mayor and aldermen were really trying to pry the people’s cold, dead, tobacco-stained fingers off triggers or fondle their mamas or something. Good grief.

When elected officials hold focus groups and conduct polls to determine which way the wind of public opinion is blowing before taking a stand on an issue, we criticize them for being spineless and indecisive.

Yet when city officials take an action that in their best judgment protects the rights of innocents from encroachment by others, we whine, “They didn’t even have a hearing.”

What’s really happened here is that city officials have trifled with humankind’s strongest addictions. All this shrill, what-rights-are-they-going-to-take-away-next-now-that-we-can’t-smoke-where-we-damn-well-please? conversation just expresses the nearness and dearness of that addiction.

Today’s smoker (and users of smokeless tobacco as well) are the victims of the most sophisticated, best-marketed nicotine delivery systems that corporate and scientific America have ever devised. The production of tobacco is subsidized by the federal government, which also funds myriad programs to discourage its use. It is also sanctioned through taxes by state government which also operates anti-tobacco efforts. And where is the outrage at that?

Instead, smokers and other users of tobacco have been persuaded that it’s about choices and that one of their most precious rights to choose is being threatened.

Right to choose? I wonder how many smokers — if given the choice of freeing themselves from a costly addiction that creates and all-permeating, objectionable, lingering odor; an addiction that often ultimately causes its victims to drown in their own lung fluids and/or to suffer numerous cruel and debilitating illnesses and that also creates a similar health hazard the people closest to them even if they don’t smoke — how many of them would choose to keep on smoking if they had the choice of instantly shedding their addiction.

Today’s smoker carries that whole monkey on his or her back. And the price of a pack of cigarettes today, high as it may be, is but down payment on the total cost for the direct and collateral damage they (and non-smoking society as well) will pay for years of nicotine addiction.

So when city officials — the four aldermen and the mayor — take a positive step to protect the health and improve the quality of life for its citizens, we should commend them for their courage.

They are following in the footsteps of their forerunners, a mayor and board who once took a lot heat for adopting stringent building and fire codes for this town.  Their actions were not fully appreciated at the time, but during the years that followed, Batesville experienced fewer serious fires and builders of substandard structures either got their act together or left town.

As a result of bold, positive leadership willing to make decisions even if they were controversial, Batesville’s fortunes have come more closely to resemble the towns east of us than those unfortunate towns to our west.