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July 18, 2013 12:53 pm

EDITORIAL: Smoking ban discussion a welcome step

Written by Tom Lawrence

Should smoking be banned in Powell businesses?

What do you think? How about your family members, friends and the people you know here in Powell? Do they support such a prohibition?

Does your view, and the opinions of people you know, even matter? Is this a personal choice for individuals and businesses? Should the government get involved, especially here in Wyoming, a state which prides itself on living a life as free as possible from restrictions and government intervention?

What are the rules here? Where are the boundaries? What, exactly, should we do, if anything, about people who light up in an enclosed public space?

We’re about to find out, as Sharon Altermatt with Prevention Management of Park County brought the issue to the fore at Monday night’s City Council meeting. Altermatt strongly supports such a ban and said she does so for one primary reason: It’s a matter of public health.

She said it all comes down to the people who are killed, or have their lives damaged, by an addiction and exposure to tobacco smoke. For that reason alone, Altermatt encouraged the Powell City Council to enact such a ban.

The council, unsurprisingly, didn’t take action Monday night. It discussed and debated the matter, with some councilmen saying they were personally opposed to smoking and wished to find a way to discourage young people from picking up the habit.

Mayor Don Hillman and some others on the council said they did not want to jump into the matter. If a business chooses to prohibit smoking, that’s fine, they said, but it is not the government’s place to mandate a smoke-free environment.

There’s a point worth considering: People who go into a bar are primarily there to consume alcohol. They may also snack on fatty, salty foods, and some will enjoy a cigarette.

Those who oppose a ban would say, if you don’t like that atmosphere, go elsewhere and leave us alone with our precious vices. However, since every bar in Powell allows smoking, there is nowhere else to go.

In addition, what about the health of bartenders, wait staff and other employees? Should they be subjected to absorbing potentially deadly second-hand smoke while they are earning a paycheck and tips?

The fact is, more and more communities and states are enacting such laws to outlaw smoking in public places. In Wyoming, 25 cities and towns have banned smoking in public, according to Prevention Management of Park County, and more are pondering such a prohibition.

It reflects a national trend, as smoking has increasingly gone out of style. According to Altermatt, more than 80 percent of Park County residents do not smoke. Don’t their voices matter?

The city is sending out a letter to local businesses to ask their thoughts. While many may react by claiming this is an infringement on their rights as Americans and property owners, others, according to Altermatt, may welcome city action.

They quietly favor such a ban, she said, but do not want to take the heat from some of their pro-tobacco customers, who may become smoking mad over the potential loss of their ability to light one up while sipping a beer.

We’ll hold our fire on whether or not we support a smoking ban, at least for now. But we will say we welcome such a public debate.

A healthy, open discussion on the pros and cons of banning smoking is the best way for a decision to be made that the community can support and accept. Let’s start talking.

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