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by Terry Werner

I drove past the Highway Diner tonight. Under the current version of the Smoke Free Act, customers cannot not smoke there. A constituent called today to see if smoking would be allowed at her bingo hall because they do not have a liquor permit. The answer was no, but the other four bingo halls can allow smoking. You canít smoke at Lazlos but just go up the street to Brewskys and you can eat, drink and smoke. Truckers traveling I-80 cannot smoke at Shoemakerís Truck Stop.

The current version of Lincolnís Smoke Free Act passed by four of my colleagues is an insult to the intelligence of the citizens of Lincoln. The ordinance allows for establishments with sales of 60% or less food to allow smoking in its place of business. This ordinance would be impossible to enforce and probably cannot withstand legal scrutiny. It is government intervention at its worst. The City Council of Lincoln should not be picking and choosing who can smoke and who cannot smoke.

If you believe, as I do, that people in the hospitality industry in Lincoln are dying and suffering adverse affects from second hand smoke then the Council should pass an ordinance that is fair to all businesses. If you do not believe that second hand smoke is dangerous then why regulate it at all?

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 was killing even one person a year citizens 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.

The original Smoke Free Act ordinance protected peopleís health. 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 I am urging my colleagues to either vote the original ordinance up or down; but please do not allow government to decide who can and cannot smoke by passing the current version of this ordinance.

On a side note, a great thing about the debate over the Smoke Free Act was the democratic process in action. People who never even voted before got involved, on both sides of the issue. There will be a final vote on Monday, December 15th. I urge people to continue to be involved and call your Council person.

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

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