Smoking ban weak; city should take stronger stance for health

My return last December from a semester-long study abroad stint in Spain was bittersweet. As I boarded that America-bound plane, I wasn’t sure whether to be happy or sad about leaving the life I had made in Spain and returning to my American friends and family.

But there was one advantage to coming home that I hadn’t anticipated: the absence of that cloud of secondhand smoke that seemed to stalk me wherever I went in Europe.

Everybody smokes in Europe. Everybody. It’s as ingrained in their culture as Monday Night Football is in ours.

It was a relief to return to a country proactive in its fight against the evils of smoking, so serious about the health hazards of secondhand smoke, that 22 of its 50 states had banned smoking in public places altogether.

And then there was Texas. More specifically, there was Fort Worth.

In the past few years, as other parts of the state and the country began passing tougher restrictions on smoking in public places, Fort Worth’s policy on lighting up remained lax.

But then in May of last year, a change came. The city formed an ad hoc group to review its regulations on the issue.

Five months later, the group recommended the passage of a comprehensive ordinance that would ensure that all of Fort Worth’s workplaces become completely smoke-free.

But the City Council didn’t take the group’s advice.

Instead, it passed a flimsy ordinance that doesn’t go far enough to stop smoking where it happens most.

Bars, bingo parlors, certain hotel rooms, restaurant patios and countless other places are exempt from the ban – rendering it almost completely useless.

The reality is that smoking ordinances aren’t just about protecting the rights and health of non-smokers in public places (though that is important, too). They are about discouraging smoking in enough places to make it harder to live in this country and be a smoker. They are about further changing our society’s take on smoking.

And a ban like the one Fort Worth just passed isn’t strong enough to do that.

As time has passed in America, so has the social acceptability of smoking. Better health education has caused a slight shift in the American opinion of smoking – a shift that definitely hasn’t taken off in places like Spain.

People are more bothered by secondhand smoke here and they are less tolerant of those who produce it.

And that’s a good thing.

We can encourage the further phasing out of an activity that causes one in five deaths every year in the U.S. by supporting legislation that makes it more inconvenient to smoke.

But the partial ban that was just passed in Fort Worth doesn’t make smoking inconvenient enough. It won’t make our culture any more intolerant of smoking.

An effective ban has to prohibit smoking in all workplaces – including bars, hotels and restaurant patios.

A sound ordinance might draw property rights lawsuits, but that’s not a good enough reason to justify the passage of a more lenient ban.

People like Councilman Carter Burdette, a representative of district seven (north and northwest Fort Worth), who says passing a smoking ordinance has made Fort Worth a place where “freedom ends” are alarmists.

A bartender’s freedom to preserve his or her health is as much of an issue as a bar owner’s freedom to choose whether to make the bar non-smoking.

What makes the bartender’s freedom take precedence is a question of health.

An eight-hour shift at a smoky bar is equivalent to smoking a pack of cigarettes per day, and bartenders have higher rates of lung cancer than firefighters, duct workers and miners, according to the Smoke Free Fort Worth organization.

We can’t keep our citizens’ health in question and endorse society’s acceptance of smoking in the name of protecting a fraction of a business owner’s property rights.

Our right to protect our bodies – the most precious property of all – is the property right that should be of most concern.

Without the participation of places like Fort Worth in a near-total ban, our culture will continue to linger around support for a habit that endangers the lives of those who choose to smoke and of those who don’t.

I hope the rest of the country leaves Fort Worth in the dust and perseveres in its quest to ban smoking in all public places.

Maybe then, 10 years down the road, my next trip to Spain will be a “Back to the Future”-esque experience. “These people still smoke?” I’ll think to myself. “What kind of prehistoric place am I visiting?”

Kailey Delinger is a senior news-editorial journalism and Spanish major from Fort Collins, Colo.