In 1990, the city of Lodi passed what was then seen to be a somewhat progressive yet controversial ordinance that prohibited cigarette smoking in most all public places. Anti-smoking advocates rejoiced as Lodi smokers were seemingly relegated to second-class status.
As a sincere believer in private property rights, I was against that ordinance then and remain so today. I mean, if a restaurant proprietor wishes to welcome the totally legal act of smoking in his establishment, then that should be his right.
Just as it should be each potential customers' right to choose to frequent an eatery that chooses to not allow smoking.
I've been called insensitive more than once, but sitting in the non-smoking area of a restaurant when smoking was permitted in restaurants, just never really bothered me personally.
Now in 2011, the Lodi City Council will begin to discuss the merits of expanding existing anti-smoking laws that prohibit smokers from lighting up within 20 feet of public buildings, to privately owned business as well.
Some welcome this as a thing that would make the air we all breath a little fresher, especially to those with existing respiratory conditions or those hyper-sensitive to pretty much any and all chemicals everywhere.
Others see this as yet another attempt to infringe on their rights, a silly and totally unnecessary step towards a cradle-to-gravetype nanny state. I tend to agree with the latter argument.
We all know, even smokers, that smoking is a pretty disgusting habit. Having the smell of cigarettes dripping from ones clothes is repulsive, but it is legal.
As one who only enjoys the occasional cigar, I personally would not be affected at all by a new city ordinance like the one being discussed. In all actuality, it would probably really only affect the select few businesses that have chosen to raise the issue to combat not only the smoking issue, but probably to combat what appears more than anything to be a loitering problem.
I mean, come on. Smoking out of doors is, to most people at least, fairly unobtrusive behavior. For it to become that objectionable, I would think that one would have to be out there puffing away in very close proximity for quite some time. However, there is the possibility that certain businesses in town allow all their employees to take their breaks at the same time, which could create a rather large cloud three to four times a day. Lunches are one thing, but employees can be told where to take their breaks.
And let's face it: Existing California law states that one must be at least 20 feet away from a public building. Twenty feet is, to most people at least, seven whole steps. I'm not too sure that making somebody walk seven steps is going to make anybody stop doing anything. If the city really wants to make a difference, it should just ban smoking altogether within say, a block or so of any business.
And what about the rights of tobacco shops and other retail outlets that sell tobacco? Is the city really ready to ban smoking in front of these establishments?
Balancing civil liberties against what some say is the greater public good is always tricky. But I think that if there is one lesson that the city of Lodi should have learned after spending millions of dollars over the last several years addressing litigation on a wide array of issues, it is that we need fewer laws and fewer regulations in this world ... not more.
J. Kurt Roberts can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.