Forty years ago, 40 percent of adult Americans were smoking cigarettes. The estimate today is only 22 percent.
I’m one of those who quit. I started smoking as a kid and liked every cigarette I ever smoked, but I stopped when my doctor told me not to come back to see him if I kept smoking. Well, that’s not exactly right. I quit smoking after I told my wife what my doctor said.
The medical world says: “Smoking is the single largest preventable cause of disease and premature death.” Most Americans believe that, and as a result, the number of cigarettes bought in this country every year has dropped from 631 billion in 1980 to 388 billion in 2004.
It’s us quitters who have to make waiters move us when we are seated next to smokers. We also worry about young people who these days in almost any city can find places to smoke not only tobacco but also drugs rolled in cigarette paper.
So we are the people who wish that the eating places and bars in our town will be forced to forbid smoking. Did you read last week that the Chicago City Council by a vote of 45 to 1 passed an ordinance to stop smoking in nearly all public places starting Jan. 16? It’s happening all over the country — New York; California; Massachusetts; Boulder, Col.; Fort Wayne, Ind.; Chapel Hill, N.C., and even Lexington, Ky., which is right in the middle of the tobacco paradise.
In Arkansas, Fayetteville and Pine Bluff have already prohibited smoking in restaurants and bars. So if it can be done there, surely it can be done in Central Arkansas. Last year there was an attempt made at the North Little Rock City Council, but it never came to a vote because the aldermen who wanted it felt they didn’t have the votes to pass the ordinance.
Alderman Martin Gipson said he didn’t want to vote for it because the ordinance was just for North Little Rock, and he thinks laws should be passed for every town in Pulaski County and maybe even the surrounding counties. I think he’s right. Doing it this way would stop the complaining of restaurant owners that their smoking customers would go somewhere else.
Last month Little Rock Mayor Jim Dailey presented a draft of an ordinance to the city’s board of directors that would ban smoking at the city’s bars, restaurants and workplaces, and he said that he wanted a vote on it early next year. A Little Rock poll revealed that 53 percent of the people were strongly in favor, 23 percent were strongly against and 22 percent were undecided.
There was some grumbling by directors, but two, Dean Kumpuris and Barbara Graves, took Alderman Gipson’s position, saying that they liked the idea but thought there should be a countywide or even a regional vote on a law rather than just a city voting on an ordinance. That way, they said, people would not abandon Little Rock restaurants and bars and go elsewhere.
Frankly, I don’t think there’s really much to worry about. The poll asked 551 persons if they would desert places that didn’t allow smoking, and 89 percent said no. Surely anyone can wait an hour or so before lighting up.
Director Genevieve Stewart was appointed by Mayor Dailey to lead a task force so that some action could take place early next year, and she says that this will happen if the other cities and the county will agree to a countywide vote. County Judge Buddy Villines, who is still a smoker, says he has no objection to what the cities seem to want to do. He reminded me that he stopped all smoking in the county buildings years ago. While North Little Rock Mayor Pat Hays and Mayor Burch Johnson of Maumelle agree with what the Little Rock task force is planning, they don’t seem eager to act soon. “Our plate is pretty full at City Hall,” Hays told the North Little Rock Times.
Little Rock’s task force wants to ban smoking from all office buildings, restaurants, bars, places that care for children and adults, all city property and vehicles, taxi cabs, buses and most indoor workplaces, public and private. There also would be no smoking within 25 feet of these structures. That list may be a bit officious, but undoubtedly it will be changed when the two cities and the county get serious. Let’s hope it will be soon. “No Smoking” signs can make life a bit more comfortable for a majority of Americans. They can also reduce the number of the 4 million people the World Health Organization says die every year from smoking.