Anti-smoking protest is misguided

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Smokers be warned.

On Monday night, a group of young people, most of whom aren't even old enough to buy a pack of cigarettes, will descend on the Village Inn for a quick bite and ask to be seated in the smoking section.

It's called a "smoke-free demonstration" and it's sponsored by Get R!EAL, a student organization that wants to call attention to the health risks associated with second-hand smoke and "denormalize" the use of tobacco, particularly where families gather.

That's the information posted on a fluorescent-yellow flyer circulating around town. The students plan to take up all the available seating in the smoking section, rendering it impossible for smokers to light up in the restaurant during the demonstration. When the students leave, they'll flash a sign with facts about the dangers of smoking to restaurant patrons.

Most smokers are probably willing to let the kids have their moment of activism without causing much of a stir. That's because most smokers wouldn't wish their nicotine addiction on anybody, especially children. Some might even endorse the effort.

But we think the demonstration is misguided.

It's hard to criticize a group of young idealists who are trying to change the world. They undoubtedly think they're doing the right thing here by bringing smoking to a halt, if only for an hour. And while we applaud their spirit, we question their tactics.

Businesses have a right to cater to whomever they choose. Village Inn makes a lot of money off people who appreciate being able to smoke after a meal. Anybody who doesn't like the fact that Village Inn accommodates smokers is free to dine elsewhere. It would make more sense for Get R!EAL to mount a boycott against all establishments that permit smoking in Craig than to single out Village Inn as a battleground for a war against smoking.

Diana "Denny" Goucher, the general manager at Village Inn, said she "wasn't thrilled" about the idea of putting kids in the smoking section, but didn't want to discriminate against anyone.

The best hope for reducing the effects of second-hand smoke (other than a citywide ban on smoking in public places) is to reduce the number of people who take up smoking in the first place. Get R!EAL should continue to emphasize education programs that will prevent children from ever taking that first puff. Stopping a bunch of die-hard smokers from lighting up for an hour isn't going to do much but make them cranky.

Nevertheless, we're glad Get R!EAL is mobilized and trying to make a difference. We don't want to discourage young people from getting involved in any movement that improves people's health. But they should understand that stepping on people's individual rights in the short term isn't a solution to a major long-term problem.

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