Nonsmoking Americans have won a significant new victory over the tobacco industry with the decision of San Francisco voters to approve a measure restricting smoking in public and private businesses. It is the first time a large American city has required in effect that nonsmokers, who are two-thirds of the nation's population, must be provided a smoke-free working environment if they so desire.
There may soon be a push in other cities to adopt the new San Francisco requirement, which in part explains why the tobacco industry spent an estimated representatives of other cities have been showing interest in emulating it.
The San Francisco victory is the most recent in a series of successful efforts by nonsmokers to assert their right not to breathe bothersome tobacco smoke. Included are court decisions, agreements by some businesses and restaurants to provide separate areas for smokers and nonsmokers, and initiatives in several state legislatures.
All these add up to a continued increase in the assertiveness of nonsmokers, starting from the first efforts in the late 1960s to require that airlines separate smokers from nonsmokers. Today's most prominent battle area, as indicated by the San Francisco referendum, is the workplace. Nonsmokers point out that they can ride to work in smoke-free public transportation, wait in smoke-free lobbies, and lunch in smoke-free restaurants: Why not also work in a smoke-free environment? It is a good question. More communities should give San Francisco's answer.