Clearing the Air

State legislatures are finally summoning up the courage to prohibit smoking in public and semipublic spaces.

New York, California, Florida, and Delaware have all declared smoking taboo in the workplace and implemented no-smoking rules in restaurants and bars.

Such moves will allow Americans to breathe much more easily and help show young people that smoking is not a public norm.

New York City's much-publicized smoking ban, which becomes effective in July, likely helped spur other states and local governments to take action. No doubt an abundance of medical evidence on the health hazards of secondhand smoke also boosted the momentum.

New Jersey, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maine, Oklahoma, and Alabama are among the states actively considering statewide smoking bans. "Clean indoor air" or "smoke free" bills were introduced in 35 states this year alone, according to the Pew Center for the States.

In addition, some 1,600 municipalities around the nation have clean-indoor-air ordinances. Chicago, Dallas, and Indianapolis are also considering smoking bans. Unfortunately, 18 states have "preemption" laws forbidding local officials from passing smoking bans.

Resistance to enacting smoking bans can be fierce - most often coming from gambling and restaurant interests and the tobacco industry. Each offers big campaign donations in attempts to influence lawmakers.

But citizens can do their part. They can patronize restaurants that voluntarily go smoke-free. And they can encourage legislators to take the obvious next step - to legally ensure that people visiting public places don't have to breathe in someone else's smoke.

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