By Ralph Davis
July 19, 2013
Last week saw the city of Prestonsburg take a bold step in expanding its smoke-free ordinance to cover many outdoor areas, only to see that step abruptly taken back with the mayor’s veto pen.
That was a wise choice. While we believe city leaders when they say their intention was to do the right thing, the reversal was simply the right thing to do.
There is a difference between controlling a situation and outright prohibition. Expanding the smoking ban to include city roads and sidewalks was tantamount to the latter.
Smokers had come to accept the smoke-free ordinance, as it applied to city businesses and workplaces. They had taken their habit outside, and there have been very few violations of the smoking ban reported.
However, expanding the smoking ban to include the outdoors gave city leaders a lesson in how quickly things can turn around. Had Mayor Jerry Fannin not vetoed the measure, the expanded smoke ban would likely have prompted an effort to repeal the entire ordinance, as even many lifelong nonsmokers questioned whether the city had gone too far.
And the outdoor ban would likely have resulted in more people violating the indoor ban, as prohibition tends to force otherwise law-abiding citizens to break the law. We can see the rationale, now: Better to smoke indoors, where the risk of being caught is low, rather than smoke outside for everyone to see.
Civilized society requires a process of give and take, not take and take. Smokers had already been asked to step outside. The new expanded smoke ban would have taken that away, as well.
No one disputes that smoking is bad for the smoker or that secondhand smoke is bad for everyone around the smoker. In a perfect world, there would be no cigarettes.
But we do not live in a perfect world, and thus we must learn to live with each other. That includes the roughly 30 percent of the local population that smokes.
City leaders have vowed to revisit the expanded smoke ban, with an eye toward keeping other parts of the proposal. That, too, is a wise move, because other parts of the act do make sense. And they may look for another way to further protect children from the dangers secondhand smoke, which is also a sensible move.
However, the outdoor ban was a step too far, and the city is better off to have abandoned it.
— The Floyd County Times