This post originally appeared as an op-ed in the Herald Leader. You can view it online, here.
I am a Teddy Roosevelt fan because we share common passions. As a gridiron fanatic, I am awe-inspired by how he saved football. Faced with calls for the abolition of the game due to a stunning number of deaths and serious injuries, Roosevelt used his diplomacy and mandated from the Oval Office elements of the game that we take for granted — protective gear; the forward pass; the first down; and a respite for players that we know as “halftime.”
Way to go, Teddy.
I also share a passion for a culinary delicacy known as sausages with our 26th President. I can eat sausages today because of what happened after Roosevelt read Upton Sinclair’s work, The Jungle. Concerned by what he had read about sausage-making and other food processing, the president launched a campaign to protect consumers from tainted meat.
At the time, the restaurant industry asserted it had a property right to serve uninspected meat as long as restaurant owners posted signs, so customers would know the meat had not been inspected for safety.
And then consumers could decide if they wanted to eat the meat or not.
But Roosevelt didn’t believe posting signs was good enough to truly protect consumers. Instead, he led the charge on passing the Federal Meat Inspection Act. Because of that, consumers don’t have to ask at that fast-food joint or the fanciest of restaurants whether they are eating contaminated beef. In fact, we would be jolted if restaurant owners today were allowed to serve “bad” meat and the responsibility was on customers to make sure what they eat is safe.
And yet that argument is what we sometimes hear when it comes to passing a statewide law making indoor workplaces and other public places smoke-free.
The truth is, protecting children from the harmful health problems resulting from secondhand smoke in restaurants is quite similar to ensuring that children don’t eat harmful meat. Secondhand smoke exposure means children are being hospitalized for asthma, pregnant moms are exposing their unborn babies to smoke, and babies are at risk of being born early or underweight.
Kentucky legislators need to answer the property rights argument in the same way that Roosevelt did. It’s time to declare that Kentucky’s citizens — and especially the youngest of Kentuckians — have a right to be protected from secondhand smoke in a restaurant or a public place. This really is a safety issue. It’s about low birthweight babies, reducing asthma hospitalizations and protecting pregnant women.
This is a common-sense issue about protecting kids. Roosevelt once observed, “The worst thing you can do is nothing.” Let’s hope that the Kentucky General Assembly acts decisively to clear the air for Kentucky children with a statewide law making indoor workplaces and other public places smoke-free.