Second Helpings

Butt Out: In a couple of weeks, citizens of Mesa get to vote on the most sweeping municipal nonsmoking measure ever proposed in this state.

The ordinance would forbid smoking just about everywhere designated as a "public place." That means workplaces, stadiums, retail stores, waiting rooms, schools, hospitals, child-care centers, public rest rooms, city parks and, naturally, restaurants. The only places where smoking is explicitly permitted: private residences, specially designated hotel rooms, private clubs--where the general public is not invited--and bars. Restaurant lounges, however, will be required to construct a floor-to-ceiling wall separating the dining area from the bar if they want to make smoking there legal.

Needless to say, the Arizona Restaurant Association (ARA) is lined up against the ordinance. Merrilyn Halverson, executive director of the organization's Northern Chapter, says that, if passed, the nonsmoking measure will have a "negative effect" on the economy. She also says she believes the measure may not be lawful, since it "invades the property rights of restaurant owners to determine their own operating policies."

I'm not sure that's the soundest place totake a strategic stand. After all, during the1960s, Lester Maddox brandished an axatthe entrance of his Georgia chicken restaurant, yelling about his constitutional right to keep blacks off his property. (He later became that state's governor.) This is not a pretty precedent.

Halverson makes a better point when she notes that most people aren't unhappy with the current situation, where they are accommodated by restaurants offering smoking and nonsmoking sections. She says surveys show that only about 15 to 20 percent of diners are militantly antismoking, refusing to eat anywhere others can light up. Halverson claims the great majority of folks--both smokers and nonsmokers--can get along with the way things are now.

But the initiative's backers aren't interested in people getting along. They say that "tobacco smoke is a major health hazard, often causing death and disease. No one should involuntarily have to breathe it." The battle lines are clear.

The ordinance does have some flaws. For instance, it seems that while people can smoke in bars, people can't work in them. That's because employees are guaranteed a smoke-free work environment. And what if some diners want to leave the restaurant and go outside for a smoke? They'd better move away from the entrance. The proposed measure requires employers to set up a separate smoking area outdoors to ensure that fumes are kept away from the door, parking lot or any place customers might pass. How far down the block might smokers have to go? Will the restaurant owner have to put up windsocks?

Of course, the way things are going, this whole issue may be no more than a tempest in an ashtray. Airlines, movie theatres, sports arenas and most workplaces already ban smoking. And Halverson concedes that, ultimately, ARA is probably fighting a losing battle. Restaurant owners have no trouble seeing the "No Smoking" future through the fumes.--Howard Seftel


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