Search This Blog


Bills promise protection of civil liberties of vulnerable

While people’s civil liberties would be protected better by a ban on smoking in any public place, a half measure is better than what violations of some people’s are allowed currently, undertaken by a pair of bills offered up for this year’s legislative session by state Rep. Frank Hoffman.

One, HB 307, would extend the current ban on smoking for a limited pool or areas such as health care and educational facilities to at least 25 feet outside of state-owned buildings or to those renovated in whole or in part using state money, and would ban smoking within 25 feet of ventilation systems, wheelchair ramps and other structures that help the handicapped enter or leave buildings (although exempting local government buildings, for some odd reason). The other, HB 378, is more limited in scope, just banning smoking within 25 feet of entrances, windows, wheelchair ramps and ventilation systems of private buildings, as well as "other enclosed areas" where smoking is prohibited.

Hoffman argues he wishes to curtail second-hand smoke with these and, while the case that this generally causes maladies among the population in general is circumstantial, it definitely causes distress to a growing segment of the population with reduced pulmonary functions. Even a whiff of smoke can send somebody into immediate respiratory distress who carries around portable oxygen units, uses mechanical ventilation, or takes medication to ameliorate asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or other maladies in order to breathe.

While current law makes smoking inside illegal for essentially any public establishment that does serves not more alcohol than anything else, is not a casino, or does not constitute a specifically-designated smoking allowed hotel room, the problem remains that since most smoke-free establishments are not prohibited from allowing smoking immediately outside entrances (including restaurants that allow outdoor dining and thus smoking in that area, or regarding window units to smoke-free rooms in motels), in order for breathing-compromised individuals to get access to a smoke-free areas commercial establishment, they potentially must run a gauntlet of smoke. With that curious exception to local government buildings – breathing-impaired people are citizens as well with potential need to interact with government – that needs changing, one or both of these bills could enable greater freedom for individuals and/or loosen restraints that may keep them less a part of commerce, reduced in exercising civic duties, or prevent enjoying life as much as any abled individual.

Sometimes civil liberties come into conflict – the right to smoke outdoors vs. the right to breathe normally. In these cases, government needs to take the least restrictive approach to deciding which group shall be allowed to exercise that liberty. The fact is nobody needs to smoke but everybody needs to breathe. Passage of legislation like Hoffman’s will protect the civil liberties of some of society’s most vulnerable members with little interference to anybody else.

No comments: