Online Services Government Employment Education Business Tourism Need Help
City Council Heading City Letter Head


by Terry Werner

Peoples' beliefs about smoking cut across all political philosophies, parties and ideologies. Is it a right or a privilege to smoke everywhere and anywhere? Is it government's role to protect community health even if it might infringe on an individual's ability to smoke? Do people have the right to breathe clean air?

The Smoke-free Air Act in Lincoln would ‘prohibit smoking in places of employment and public places'. It would ban smoking in all restaurants and bars. After many hours of public testimony and significant Council debate on amendments to the ordinance, we may finally vote on Monday, December 8th.

The primary issues with the smoking ban concern economics, free choice and public health. Will the ordinance affect small businesses, particularly bars, and cause a loss of jobs? If business is lost, will it dramatically affect City revenues? Why shouldn't smokers have a place to go as well as non-smokers? Finally, if second hand smoke kills, isn't it governments responsibility to protect those affected? These are but a few of the issues concerning the Smoke-free Air Act. It has been a very difficult and time consuming issue for the Lincoln City Council.

I have great empathy for small business and tremendous concern for how the Council's actions will affect them. I am in the travel business and since September 11, 2001, have basically survived on a day to day basis. I would not wish these difficulties on anyone. However, there are significant studies from cities and states that have implemented a smoking ban which show little or no negative economic impact. This does not mean that there will not be an impact on some businesses, there will be. On the other hand, 80% of the market is nonsmoking.

Good jobs are hard to find and I can understand the concern people working in the hospitality industry have. I would have the same concern. If you factor in tips, waiters and waitresses make excellent money. There are also wait staff who cannot afford to change jobs. They have to choose between working in an unsafe environment with second hand smoke or paying the rent and supporting their family. Finding another job with equivalent pay is not easy and sometimes impossible.

Another economic affect is the cost to society in the form of higher healthcare costs, loss of productivity because of increased illness, additional public health risks and increased taxes. Several doctors testified about what they see daily in their practices. They see a higher incidence of asthma, heart disease, sudden infant death syndrome, strokes, and cancer. Studies clearly show that second hand smoke kills and shortens peoples lives. They show that for every pack of cigarettes sold it costs $7.12 to society.

Many citizens testified that they do not want government interfering with private enterprise. They said that if 80% of the market prefers non-smoking then let the marketplace handle it. There was testimony that the City was discriminating against smokers. If you don't want to work in a smoking environment, get another job. If you don't like smoking don't go there.

James Repace (2002), a noted environmental physiologist conducted a study of cotinine, a biomarker for second hand smoke in the urine of 28 Lincoln non-smoking hospitality workers that showed levels 18 times higher than the national median. Based on published dose-response relationships relating mortality from second hand smoking induced lung cancer and heart disease, an estimated 78 deaths per year occur among Nebraska hospitality workers, of which 17 are estimated to occur in the City of Lincoln. While only 4.5% of the population is at risk, hospitality workers suffer an estimated 22% of the mortality from their exposure to second hand smoke. The difficulty is that people don't fall over dead in the bar but get ill slowly and over time. If our water supply were killing even one person a year people would be outraged. We have a right to drink clean water and it is the City's responsibility to make sure it is safe. The Health Department regulates the kitchens that prepare food in restaurants and citizens would expect nothing less. The same is true of environments with second hand smoke.

Smokers will still be able to smoke, no-one is suggesting that this freedom be taken away. However, smoking is a privilege and not a right. Smokers have no right to bring harm by smoking where people are working or enjoying leisure activity. With the current amendment that will allow for ‘smoking rooms', establishments will be able to offer a smoking alternative that will not affect employees and customers.

It is very important that the Health Department take a proactive role in protecting Lincoln citizen's health. They are doing the right thing. People are dying every year in Lincoln, Nebraska. The marketplace is not protecting people and it is the City's responsibility to do so. This ordinance is the right thing to do and the right time is now.

Terry Werner was elected to an at-large seat on the City Council in 2001.

. InterLinc Home Page