So much public health concern, so much smoke. Earlier this month a horrified New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg reportedly dispatched the NYPD to Madison Square Garden to halt a Rolling Stones concert. It seems guitarists Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood were puffing onstage in violation of the city's strict no-smoking policy. Now, anyone can see that cigarettes are the least of Keith and Ronnie's problems. It's a fair guess that the nicotine surging through their veins is the only thing keeping them from joining the ranks of the undead. Yet it's this brand of very public "public health concern" that drove 50 state's attorneys general to craft a $246 billion settlement with the nation's tobacco companies in 1998--"a major victory for public health" as it was then billed.
But a Yale University study published in a recent issue of The New England Journal of Medicine reveals almost none of the tobacco settlement loot has been spent for health care or smoking prevention/cessation programs. Instead, most of it was flushed into pet state programs--thereby tying fiscal health to maintaining a steady cadre of smokers--and other fascinating causes. Alabama funneled $500,000 of its share of the settlement to the state's tobacco farmers.
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So you'll have to excuse the skepticism when Mayor Laura Miller and the Dallas City Council say their decision to pass a smoking ban in the city's restaurants and bars was done in the name of public health. Set to take hold March 1, the ban prohibits smoking in restaurants, restaurant bars, hotels (excluding guest rooms), hotel bars, the Dallas Convention Center, bingo parlors and bowling alleys. Not only that, but the ordinance stipulates that bars (venues that generate 75 percent of their revenues from alcohol) must establish separate smoking and nonsmoking areas and provide nonsmoking areas around the cashier, essentially banning bar bellying with a smoke. These restrictions were passed despite the absence of a public outcry, restaurant industry cooperation with the city's Environmental Health Commission to implement recommended changes to the city's smoking ordinance, huge restaurant industry investments in ventilation systems over the past several years and the fact that patrons can easily drive short distances to escape the restrictions. City officials stated that the restaurant industry provided no credible studies showing that the ban would adversely impact their economic health. Which perhaps means the council should take its public health motives to their logical and laudable conclusion and ban the sale of cigarettes in Dallas. Then again Mayor Miller is talking about pursuing a cigarette tax to pay for police and fire department salaries. So maybe we should do our part for public health and city services and chain-smoke around the valet.