Won’t someone think of the addicts?

Elizabeth Hovde’s column in the Oregonian this weekend examined the new statewide smoking ban and said, hey, aren’t smokers people too?

It feels good to pass laws that protect people’s health. But retaining the rights of private property owners and the social lives of a minority group feels pretty good, too. It’s unfortunate state lawmakers didn’t choose to do both. They could have…

Several business owners in Washington have tried, with no success, to get around their state’s smoking ban by creating members-only type clubs for smokers. Such areas would not have employees working in the area and would use a different ventilation system than the rest of the business. But the 2005 law is clear: If the business has employees, no smoke is allowed on the premises.

Washington and Oregon should revise their laws to accommodate those seeking the loopholes. The loopholes make sense. If there is a way to protect workers without denying a property owner the right to allow smoking on his or her premises, the state should be interested in making that happen.

Granted, there won’t be a huge outcry to help smokers and businesses friendly to smokers breathe more easily under the new ban. Smokers’ liberties have been numbered for some time.

With a 17 percent adult smoking rate in Oregon, according to 2007 statistics from the Kaiser Family Foundation, smokers’ shot at fighting laws that curtail smoking have been thinner than a Virginia Slim. But Oregonians value minority groups and should be interested in a better solution than creating social shut-ins and threatening the profit of some businesses…

Even though Oregon’s law is better than some others, it could have been better. It could have been a little “weird,” the way many Oregonians say they like things to be around here. It could have ensured that when everyone in a given, independently ventilated, private location is there voluntarily and off the clock, smoking is permitted. It could have protected the health of workers and us nonsmokers, while accommodating smokers and business owners. How odd would that have been?

I have a few quibbles with the article. For one, it paints all smokers as addicts; some people legitimately enjoy tobacco and can do so in moderation. I think there are better ways to reduce the number of smoking businesses than only allowing private clubs. And finally, it cites the Pueblo smoking ban study, a shoddy piece of work that no one should take seriously. But that aside, it’s great to see people taking a step back and realizing that no matter how much they dislike smoking, the comprehensive bans that have become en vogue go too far. Kudos to Elizabeth for writing this and the Oregonian for running it. We need more of this.