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Opinion

State shouldn't set policy for restaurants

| Tuesday, Aug. 31, 2004

We long for the days when government was content with being government and didn't try to be our daddies and mommies.

The latest example in Pennsylvania comes in a bill proposed by State Sen. Stewart Greenleaf, a Republican from Montgomery County, that would outlaw smoking in bars and restaurants.

The bill is an extension of Pennsylvania's Clean Air Act, which already bans smoking in all workplaces except bars and restaurants.

We're not denying that smoking is unhealthy. Its damaging effects are widely understood, even by most smokers. But that shouldn't give government the authority to start setting policy for private business owners.

There are many people in our society who enjoy smoking; there are also many people who can't stand to be around the smell of cigarettes and cigars. Bars and restaurants should be able to accommodate both groups.

Left unchecked by government order, some bars and restaurants would ban smoking on their own. Others would allow smoking anywhere in their facilities. Still others would cordon off smoke-free areas so that both groups could be happy.

That's the way things work in a free society, and it's how our society used to operate before government became the self-appointed gatekeeper over anything it deems unhealthy, whether it's smoking, drinking, fatty foods or driving without seat belts. (But not gambling, which will continue to be encouraged as long as it remains a state-run industry.)

Local bar and restaurant owners are predictably dismayed by Greenleaf's attempted power play.

"Most people smoke more when they drink," said Ryan Skibicki, assistant general manager at Redd Dawg's All Star Clubhouse in Rostraver Township. "Some say it brings out the flavor."

"I think it would affect the bar people who come in and want to have a cigarette and a beer," added Wayne Foulks, co-owner of Felicia's Restaurant and Lounge in Monessen.

As long as tobacco remains a legal substance and the activity is engaged in by adults, the state should have no business sticking its regulatory nose into bars and restaurants. It's difficult enough for these businesses to succeed without having their customer base reduced by an unwanted ban on smoking.

Greenleaf's proposal should not only be rejected, but the smoking-related provisions of the original Clean Air Act should be re-examined to see if they are placing an unnecessary burden on private businesses.

And since our state is obsessed with safety, we would like to see the re-election campaigns for politicians like Greenleaf come with a warning label to remind voters that too much government interference can be bad for their health.

-- Tribune-Review News Service

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