Forum Left, 6/5

Objections to ban go up in smoke

By Marianne Stanley

Before there can be any meaningful discussion of whether or not the Ohio Supreme Court overstepped its bounds in upholding the ban on smoking in bars and restaurants and other public places, it just might help to take a look at the definition of a couple of words.   So often, people will argue until they’re blue in the face over an issue without ever first defining terms that could make their whole debate moot.

According to Merriam Webster, government is “the act or process of governing; specifically, authoritative direction or control.”   And while it makes for good theater to say that there should be no government and that private property is sacrosanct, neither assertion is true.

The truth is that when people come together, they invariably and consistently form themselves into a government of sorts so that there is a clear understanding and functionality to the group.  Whether within a tribe or a country, people set up hierarchies for the smooth functioning of the group. This happens in churches, schools, neighborhoods, even within the family itself.

Second, in truth, “private property” is neither a right nor a reality.  It is a creation of our laws.  Indigenous peoples thought it absurd that the newly arriving Europeans claimed land as though they had a right to possess part of the Earth.  In fact, the supposed “right” to property is a contrived right, a creature of government itself.

Congress is charged specifically with creating “laws for the general welfare.”  This tension between law and individual rights has always existed and always will since perspectives and desires vary so widely among citizens.

In this case, the Ohio Supreme Court made the most reasonable finding it could, given the circumstances.  When the actions of the few put the health of the many at risk, the decision needs to come down on the side of the many for the public good to be served.   While the standard arguments can be made that a private business owner should be able to do what he or she wants with his or her own property, that is not and has never been the case.  One cannot offer a place for customers to engage in consensual sex, nor a place to get high on drugs.  Businesses that are open to the public must serve the public, not endanger them.

The argument that no one forces an employee to work in a smoke-filled environment is simplistic and specious.  People are often forced to take undesirable or even dangerous jobs to support their families, to survive.  Employers, as the ones in power, have an obligation to protect their workers.  Abuse of power is the underlying cause of all our problems in the world today, from environmental degradation to so-called “wars.”

The old adage still holds, “The right to swing your arm ends where the other person’s nose begins.”   Those who oppose this law restricting smoking in public places do have a point when they say that government shouldn’t be telling people where they can and cannot smoke because it shouldn’t fall to government to make this decision.  Smokers, themselves, should be considerate enough to never light up around children or non-smokers.  But unless and until the populace can use consideration, compassion and common sense on their own, it looks like it is up to government to stand up for the rights of the majority who would like to breathe clean air rather than being forced to suck in a bucketload of carcinogenic chemicals and smoke just because they’d like to have a meal or a drink on their night out.

The Ohio Supreme Court acted in the best interests of a civilized society rather than for the benefit of a self-gratifying minority who can still smoke – just not indoors in business establishments that cater to the public.  A solution may be to allow clearly-posted “Smoking Only” businesses, particularly bars, as long as employees, too, are smokers.

Marianne Stanley is an attorney, college professor and former journalist who believes many of our nation’s ills could be cured if our children were taught critical thinking skills beginning at the elementary level and continuing through middle and high school. She can be reached at

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