For more than 30 years, this newspaper has urged our elected and non-elected officials at all levels of government to enact laws and regulations to minimize the influence of the tobacco industry, especially when it comes to their efforts to hook young people on a lifelong addiction.
Back in the mid-1990s, we won awards in consecutive years from the Massachusetts Chapter of the American Cancer Society for our reporting and editorials pertaining to these issues.
So we take some degree of pride in having been part of a larger movement that has turned the tide against the tobacco industry in the United States over the past 30 years and that ultimately led to communities such Revere enacting strict regulations that forbid the use of tobacco products in the workplace and public spaces.
However, even staunch anti-tobacco proponents such as ourselves have acknowledged that this is not an all-or-nothing debate and that there are nuances that must be taken into account.
We never proposed that tobacco products should be made illegal or that individuals be penalized for using tobacco products. This is a free country, and as long as smokers do not subject non-smokers unwillingly to their second-hand smoke, using tobacco products is their choice.
We believe that the Revere Board of Health’s decision last Tuesday to reject an amendment to the board’s “Workplace Smoking Restrictions” regulations that would allow for up to three smoking lounges in the city is fundamentally flawed because it goes far afield from the original intent of the board’s own regulation.
The regulation is not intended to protect the health of smokers. Its purpose is to protect all workers in their workplaces and persons in public spaces from the hazards of second-hand smoke which, as we know, is as harmful as smoking itself.
The board members’ discussion of the dangers of using hookah products to the users is irrelevant. If someone wants to use a hookah, that’s their choice, for better or worse.
In addition, there is nothing in the regulations — or within the board’s general authority — that infers that the board should use the regulations to “send a message,” whether to the community at large or to young people, about the dangers of smoking.
If the board truly believed that it is their job to suppress unhealthy individual behavior or to ensure that such behavior does not “send the wrong message,” then the board should ban the sale of all tobacco products, as well as alcohol, fast food, junk food, soft drinks — you get the point.
The board can suggest healthy behavior and educate members of the community — but the ultimate decision whether to engage in unhealthy behavior is up to the individual as long as it does not impact others.
To the extent that smoking lounges might send a wrong message to young people, we don’t believe it is outweighed by the desire of persons either to engage in their cultural rituals of using a hookah or to enjoy the social benefits of patronizing a cigar lounge.
By no means are we even remotely suggesting that the board’s decision was motivated by racist intent (as one person in the audience unfortunately charged at the end of the meeting), but its decision unquestionably has the effect of discriminating against the members of our community for whom partaking in the rituals of a hookah lounge has been a part of their culture for centuries.
We acknowledge that for someone who might take a job in one of these establishments, the second-hand smoke will be significantly unhealthy. Fair enough, but right now there are no smoking lounges in the city and if they were to be allowed, a prospective employee can make that choice. There are lots of other jobs where they won’t be exposed to second-hand smoke.
So we urge the Board of Health to re-examine what its mission is and then to rethink its decision regrading smoking lounges.
The bottom line, in our opinion, is that if individuals in our community wish to partake in that type of activity, whether for cultural or personal reasons, the city should respect their culture and personal choices and make a reasonable effort to accommodate them.