A state Senate committee has shot down legislation allowing towns to impose stricter regulations on smoking in public than what state law imposes. The bill's demise isn't a big surprise. This proposal has been floated several times in recent years without success.
Nonetheless, the margin of defeat, 6-2, was larger than many expected. We were among those supporting the bill, which enhances citizens' local control of smoking regulations. Ironically, many of the lawmakers who voted against the bill will loudly decry “one size fits all” edicts from Washington, D.C., but have done an about-face to support that approach when the dictate is handed down to all corners of the state from NE 23 and Lincoln. Critics accuse those lawmakers of hypocrisy. They have a point.
Some lawmakers with libertarian leanings argue that so long as tobacco remains a legal product (and tobacco taxes, ironically, support health spending), then it makes no sense to single out smokers for what they consider regulatory harassment. Other opponents argue increased regulation at the local level would put some businesses at a competitive disadvantage.
However, requiring smokers to limit tobacco use in public places isn't an unreasonable burden. Adults can imbibe alcohol at a restaurant but not behind the wheel of a car; limiting where you can light a cigarette is similar. And businesses in states with local control of smoking ordinances aren't floundering financially.
Still, the bill's supporters should drop their overheated “Big Tobacco” rhetoric. Business-bashing is both unwarranted and counterproductive. Ultimately, this debate isn't about sending a message to “Big Tobacco,” browbeating smokers or “punishing” anyone. It's about increasing the power of citizens at the local level.
If the voters can be trusted when they elect members of the Legislature, surely those same voters can be trusted when electing mayors and city councils to set local policy. It's that simple.