Smoking ordinance truly a no-brainer

Published 12:24 am Sunday, November 9, 2008

I’m from the government and I’m here to help. President Ronald Reagan joked that those were the nine “most terrifying words” in the English language.

His point was well taken, but a little skewed.

Admittedly, government often has a way of screwing things up, or at least missing the forest for the trees, on important issues.

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Bureaucratic waste and heavy handedness is a common concern.

A bigger concern for many citizens is that the government will invade their rights to live as they please — regardless of how doing so may affect others.

Natchez residents are often split into two groups: the ones who are OK with government regulations and take part in the process, and those who think all government is bad government.

Locally, this is most often seen when planning and preservation issues arise.

“Nobody is going to tell me what color I can paint my house,” say residents who misunderstand or just don’t approve of historic preservation requirements.

“If I want to put up a sign to promote my business, I should be able to put up whatever kind of sign I want to put up.”

Such debates can quickly become divisive.

But what’s lost in the debate is often the overriding purpose behind the law.

In the example of historic preservation laws, they’re intended to protect the aesthetics and integrity of the historical areas of Natchez, essentially to protect the greater good from an individual’s whim.

Generally, small government is good government. But good government provides protections for society, too.

Laws prohibit one from carrying firearms onto school grounds or onto federal property.

Those regulations may seem strict to some, but their intent is to prevent someone from accidentally harming someone else.

Laws also prohibit one from driving 90 miles an hour down Homochitto Street.

Again, the intent isn’t to restrict someone’s personal right, but to prevent someone from speeding in a public place where he might harm others.

Each of those examples prevents one from accidentally ruining someone else’s pursuit of happiness.

Natchez Aldermen James “Ricky” Gray and Bob Pollard understand this.

The pair has proposed an idea that seems like a no brainer, unless you’re a smoker.

The two suggest that the City of Natchez ban smoking in restaurants and bars.

Of course, smokers feel this violates the rights of the bar and restaurant owners to operate their businesses how they please.

It’s easy to say that consumers should simply “vote” on the issue with their business.

In other words, if you don’t like restaurants that allow smoking, don’t go there.

The problem is that argument assumes a customer knows where the smokers will be. How many residents know this already?

What about visitors?

The last time I checked, most restaurants didn’t publicly tout “smokers welcome” at the front door.

So that leaves all of the non-smokers wondering if entering the establishment will expose them to harmful second-hand smoke or not.

Banning smoking in restaurants is a no-brainer.

Let’s snuff this public health issue out and move on to more important topics — like creating a long-range vision for where Natchez needs to be heading.

Now that’s something worth serious discussion among our leaders and citizens, not worrying about a bunch of butt-heads.

Kevin Cooper is publisher of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3539 or