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Workplace Smoking Ban A Great Idea

Column by Michael K. Chung
Opinion Editor

This past week, important events have occurred at the international, national, and local (i.e. on the MIT campus) levels. On the international level, the world-renowned doll Barbie turned 35 on Wednesday. This important date was probably missed by most of the MIT population though, because the Undergraduate Association elections were held that same day. Of course, it may be the other way -- perhaps the elections were missed by students because of Barbie's big birthday bash.

Either way, our new UA President Vijay P. Sankaran '95 and Carrie R. Muh '96 are to be congratulated and wished the best in their year in office. I would like to take this opportunity to thank those of you who voted for me -- no matter the turnout, I was excited to be a part of it, and thoroughly amused at the fact that people actually voted for me.

All kidding aside, this week's ban on smoking in the military workplace by the Department of Defense is significant progress in reducing risk to non-smokers in public areas.

In 1986, the Pentagon implemented restrictions on smoking, still allowing workers "to light up in private offices, designated restrooms, and hallways and in smoking areas of restaurants," ["Defense Department to ban smoking at posts worldwide," The Boston Globe, March 8]. This action led to similar action within the armed services. For instance, the Navy imposed strict rules limiting smoking on ships this past fall.

According to the Globe, the current plan will completely ban smoking inside "all Defense Department offices and anywhere else that meets the definition of a workplace, whether it is the inside of a tank, airplane, or helicopter," Over 2.6 million personnel, uniformed and civilian, work for the Defense Department's installations around the world.

This ban is an excellent course of action for any government agency, business, or organization to take for the safety of all employees. Non-smokers are not immune to smoking-related diseases -- studies suggest that sidestream or "second-hand" cigarette smoke affects others in the environment of a burning cigarette.

McDonald's Inc., recently called for a ban of smoking in all of its restaurants. Eager to be environmentally conscious in its operations (e.g. elimination of polystyrene sandwich containers, though the efficacy of this maneuver is debatable), the fast-food franchise has made a bold step forward to establishing a smoke-free environment, as commercial airlines did for domestic flights several years ago.

These policies are excellent measures for protecting others from the potential dangers and discomforts from cigarette smoke. A person should not have to ask another to put out a cigarette in a public place. Smoking should be reserved only for selected enclosed rooms in buildings and the household.

The recent action taken by the Department of Defense to limit smoking to designated areas is an impressive policy, providing defense to individuals from cigarette smoke and its potential dangers. Several public establishments ban smoking already -- movie theaters and museums, for instance. It is my personal hope that more businesses and establishments (for example, shopping malls and restaurants) will follow this lead, and smoking is phased out of the public establishments of our society.