Ten years ago we wrote an editorial urging the city to ban smoking in all public places. People can be passionate about smoking bans, we learned. In 2003, the Homer City Council considered a ban on smoking that would apply everywhere but bars. Testimony got heated, and took a sober turn when one man died of a heart attack after testifying against a smoking ban.
A funny thing happened, though. After the council failed to pass a blanket smoking ban, anti-smoking, pro-health groups worked with stores, restaurants and bars to impose their own smoking bans. There's no law guaranteeing smokers the right to smoke anywhere they want to, and no law prohibiting businesses from banning smoking. Store by store, restaurant by restaurant, businesses in Homer became smoke free.
Even a few bars banned smoking. Bars and smoking seem to go hand in hand, but in Homer one by one a few bars bucked that trend. First it was bars with restaurants that banned smoking, like the Homestead, Don Jose's and Land's End. Then bars like Alice's Champagne Palace became smoke free. This year three more bars have announced they're smoke free, or will be soon, including The Alibi, Duggan's and the Homer Spit landmark, the Salty Dawg.
Owners cite many reasons for the ban. Some want to attract nonsmokers, especially aging baby boomers who used to smoke but have quit for health reasons. Some bars want to protect the health of their employees.
All of this happened voluntarily. Customers now have a choice. Hospitality industry workers have a choice, too. If they want to work in a smoke-free workplace, they can choose no smoking bars. Musicians have a choice, too. If they want to save their lungs and make music without smoke, they can play in smoke-free bars. That's the free market at work.
Sometimes government has to step in where voluntary efforts don't work. From worker safety to protecting the environment, not every business can be counted on to be socially responsible. The trend in almost every restaurant and business and most bars to become smoke free in Homer proves that sometimes the heavy hand of government isn't needed.
We applaud those businesses that have gone smoke free. We think that's a good choice for the health of customers and workers. That said, we recognize that some establishments and customers like smoking. When workers in the hospitality industry didn't have a choice, we might have said forcing people to endure secondhand smoke as part of the conditions of employment was wrong. Now that workers have a choice, well, maybe our town can tolerate a few nicotine-heavy bars and restaurants.
The trend toward no smoking bars and restaurants offers a good lesson in political change. Sometimes more government isn't the answer. Sometimes social change can happen faster -- and with less angst -- through education. That's what's happened here in Homer.
When change happens through choice, and we keep our choices, that's change we all can salute.
-- Homer News, April 14
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