Like the clouds of cigarette smoke in restaurant smoking sections, there are still some questions hanging in the air regarding Columbia County's ban on smoking in publicly accessible places.
But now that the ordinance has passed its first reading, the only question that matters is: What happens next?
In the short term, the language of the Columbia County Smoke-Free Air Act will be tweaked to shut potential loopholes while allowing private clubs to be grandfathered out.
In spite of all the angry wheezing from smokers, what won't happen is a halt to progress of the ordinance. This thing is coming, and as of Jan. 1, 2005, indoor smoking will be prohibited in every restaurant and publicly accessible building in Columbia County.
What also could happen is a lawsuit from the ban's opponents, who are whipped up by a potent combination of emotion and misinformation. Newsflash, guys: Side-stream or "secondhand" smoke is, in fact, harmful to those who inhale it. And yes, anti-smoking ordinances survive court challenges.
Inevitability is frustrating, and frustration leads to anger -- which is why so many opponents of the smoking ban nearly lost their Kools at Tuesday's Commission session. For them, what happens next is an end to protection of their offensive activity. So naturally they're upset, and prone to outlandish claims to non-existent "rights" and nonsense about "tyranny."
We suspect the real fight has nothing to do with rights or liberty, however. The addicts and activists just want to keep the status quo that protects their ability to pollute other people's air. There is no "right" for them to do so -- a concept that is downright laughable.
Business owners are a different story. As much as the vast majority of citizens and Chamber of Commerce members like the proposed ban, business owners still can make a good case for a right to use their property as they see fit. It must be terribly awkward for them to realize, however, that their language in asserting such rights sounds exactly like the folks who once defended segregated lunch counters.
The question, then, shouldn't really be about what happens next. The question should be how to make sure the final ordinance has no more loopholes waiting to be exploited. If that means hiring another lawyer to look over County Attorney Doug Batchelor's shoulder on this one, it would be a better investment than the money it would take to fight off later challenges to weak law.
Unquestionably, the view of the overwhelming majority of Columbia County citizens is soon to prevail. That may not make a handful of addicts and activists happy, but that doesn't make a welcome ban on smoking any less inevitable.
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