WHAT WE THINK: Is it time to revisit a local smoking ban?

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By The Staff

As CVS drugstores move to remove cigarettes from their shelves this fall, we think it’s time for our city and county officials to start thinking the same way.

CVS officials cited a moral responsibility for making the change.

“Ending the sale of cigarettes and tobacco products at CVS pharmacy is the right thing to do for our customers and our company to help people on their path to better health,” said Larry J. Merlo, president and CEO of CVS Caremark.

So if a business that has no strong connection to our county, no long history in our community can bring this sort of concern and clear thinking, shouldn’t our fiscal court and city governments do the same?

The idea first got serious in Shelby County in late 2010, when a Facebook group gathered signatures and support in asking our leaders in Shelbyville and Shelby County to consider a smoking ban in restaurants.

We agreed with the suggestion that families shouldn’t have to endure smoke-filled dining rooms while eating.

Neither entity acted on the idea, although fiscal court briefly toiled with it.

We understand that Shelby County’s history is stained with sweat and tobacco juice from stripping plants, and that drying burley has helped lift our county from humble beginnings to where we are today, but times are changing.

We would like to see the decision made – like CVS has implied – for moral and health reasons, with businesses eager to cater to a healthier demographic leading the economic charge.

But that’s simply not the case, at least not yet.

We realize there are pros and cons behind the decision, too.

On one hand, secondhand smoke causes adverse health consequences for both employees and customers. But on the other hand, removing a business owner’s ability to decide what happens in a restaurant or store infringes on our freedom of choice.

As many will say, we as customers should decide with our dollars if we prefer smoking or non-smoking.

And maybe we’re beginning to do just that.

The last time we visited this issue, many businesses that hadn’t made the switch to non-smoking said the move would hurt their bottom lines. But now we have restaurants – even one with a bar – saying that’s not what is happening at all.

Terry Daniels, the manager at Cattleman’s Restaurant, said it’s helped.

“We actually gained customers,” he said. “We did lose some bar business, but some of them came back.”

And representatives at Waffle House, which went smoke-free just this month, have agreed. And yes, it’s that Waffle House, the one at seemingly every interstate exit across the south, where truck drivers and families intermingle for a delicious, greasy treat.

Did you ever think you’d get to enjoy your hash browns scattered and smothered but not [cigarette] smoked?

If it was really going to affect the bottom line, really change profit margins and projections, do you believe corporate America would make that move?

When was the last time you saw a large corporation make a move because it was socially responsible, bottom-line be damned?

So if we really want our restaurants and convenience stores to continue to be profitable and make more money in the long run, should we not try to make sure their customers are around long enough to become regulars?

People have the right to smoke, and we respect that, but we also believe that businesses and our government have the right to protect the health of their customers and citizens.