Both the rights of smokers, non-smokers need to respected

Guest column

As a non-smoker and a person with asthma, I applaud Country Diner’s decision to go smoke-free. With the city of Columbus establishing a smoking ban in restaurants and bars and Cleveland considering a similar measure, the issue of secondhand smoke has been in the forefront of recent news.

Despite the claims of smoking advocates, we cannot just “go somewhere else.” There are few restaurants in the area and no bars where there is a smoke-free environment. The divisions between smoking and non-smoking sections in most restaurants consist of simply different areas of floor space that are not enclosed and do not have efficient ventilation systems. This means that while the smoke is stronger in the smoking section, it is free to drift over to those of us in the non-smoking section.

When it comes to bars, smokers argue that if you are drinking, which is unhealthy, you shouldn’t mind the smoking that goes with the visit to the bar. The argument is a gross oversimplification. Yes, alcohol is not the best substance for you, but I am not drinking to the point of intoxication. Except for very rare occasions, I have at most two drinks in a particular night, and I am not going out to the bars every night of the week. Alcohol does not cause my breathing passages to swell and give me difficulty breathing like cigarette smoke does. Alcohol does not saturate my clothes so deeply it takes several washings to get the stench out.

I do not believe that smoking should be banned outright. Smokers do have the right to damage their own bodies as much as they want. Nor do I think it is necessary to outlaw all smoking in public buildings, but the activity should be limited to a (truly) contained area with proper ventilation. This lack of containment is what I have a problem with.

There is one part of Country Diner’s conversion that I do take issue with, however. Manager Ed Davidian announced that “We stopped hiring employees who smoked.” This is a very clear case of discrimination, and the restaurant is setting itself up for a lawsuit. It is one thing to say that an employee cannot smoke while on company time. It is another thing entirely to dictate what that employee may do when she is off the clock.

In recent months, there has been talk of companies potentially including tests for cigarette smoking with their illegal drug tests, and firing employees who are found to be smokers. Companies cite higher costs of health insurance as a valid reason to not hire smokers. But to allow corporations to take such actions is a dangerous intrusion into citizens’ private lives. Employees are not slaves to the companies for which they work. There needs to remain a clear separation between “work time” and “home time.”

Despite the good intentions of places like Country Diner, the execution of these policies still needs work. While it is good to see the rights of non-smokers are finally starting to be respected, we must not, in the process, infringe on the rights of those who choose to smoke.

Michael Collins is a senior sociology major at Kent State.