Now that residents have expressed their opinions, Sheffield City Council members will take the next two weeks to consider a no-smoking ordinance.
In the 1975 film classic “Jaws,” Police Chief Martin Brody finds himself caught between protecting the safety of beach patrons and pleasing his town’s business community.
The choice is simple to Brody, and he shows great courage in trying to shut down the beaches until they are safe again.
Courage to do the right thing is an admirable trait in a public servant, whose fate can be determined by public opinion.
Sheffield Councilman Steve Stanley displayed such courage in November when he introduced an ordinance to restrict smoking in public places within the city.
The ordinance would prohibit smoking in bars, convention facilities, public and private educational facilities, health care facilities, hotels and motels, polling places, private clubs, restaurants, retail stores, government offices, indoor and outdoor sports arenas, theaters, banks, laundries and professional offices.
On Monday, the council held a public hearing to allow members of the community to give their opinions. Some support the ordinance, saying it will protect health and life.
Dr. Ajit K. Naidu, of the Cardiovascular Institute of the Shoals, told the council that second-hand smoke increases the risk of coronary heart disease by 30 percent and carries as many toxic chemicals as direct smoking.
Others at the hearing oppose the ordinance, arguing it will hurt business at restaurants and bars. They say it smacks of government intrusion into free choice.
“If you outlaw smoking, I might as well close the doors,” said Nancy French, who owns a downtown bar called Nan’s.
If council members are worried about protecting business, they should consider that Florence has already restricted smoking. That should prevent customers who smoke from fleeing to the nearby city. If officials in other Shoals cities can be persuaded to ban smoking, it would level the competition even more.
Anti-smoking advocate Renee Mullins said some studies show that business can improve with a ban on smoking.
But the impact on business cannot compare to the risk that second-hand smoke poses to the health and lives of people.
Like the great white shark in “Jaws,” a killer is swimming in a sea of second-hand smoke.
We urge the Sheffield City Council to find the courage to do the right thing by putting the health of its community first.