The Daily News editorial, "Let markets decide on smoking policies," on Feb. 12 argues that eliminating smoking in restaurants should come from market forces and not government regulation. This argument is based on a flawed assumption - that second-hand smoke is simply a matter of annoyance to non-smokers.
The key issue here is not annoyance, but the fact that second-hand cigarette smoke is a known carcinogen, and its presence poses a serious health risk for anyone nearby. Take a few minutes online and you will find several credible sources that point out the risk to public health - the American Cancer Society, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Mayo Clinic, and the Centers for Disease Control, just to name a few. Second-hand smoke is known to cause lung cancer, increase the risk of heart disease, trigger asthmatic attacks, and impact children's health in many ways. These are not issues of annoyance; they are issues of public health.
One responsibility of government is to protect its citizens, and over the past few decades it has made great strides in public health issues. Through government regulations, for example, OSHA and other organizations protect the public from exposure to asbestos, an insulating material known to cause lung cancer and other ailments.
If asbestos or other airborne carcinogens were found in a restaurant, that building would be closed and sealed until the danger to public health was eliminated. We would not suggest that consumers should speak with their dollars until the owner listens and eliminates the health danger. Yet we view second-hand tobacco smoke - another known carcinogen - as an "annoyance" that simply offends non-smokers' noses and sensibilities.
If local government fails to act on this issue of public health, it will fail in one of its fundamental obligations, the protection of its citizens.