Thursday, April 12, 2007

Smoking ban threatens seniors' rights

My wife came up with an interesting question about the proposed smoking ban that appears (unless someone should stop it) to be on its way to being enacted.

Nicole works as a Certified Nursing Assistant at Jefferson County Nursing Home. She enjoys her job very much, as well as the residents that she works with. In posing this question, it bears noting that she is a non-smoker.

If I am reading the bill correctly, nursing facilities would be one of the places (as with most) where lighting up would be outlawed. Of course, no one in the State has yet figured out how to keep individuals from lighting up in their own home. Nicole pointed out to me, however, that for the residents of the County Nursing Home (one of the best such facilities in East Tennessee, if not the entire State) that is their home. Current policy inside the nursing home designates certain special areas where residents may go to smoke. Many of these residents have been smoking all of their lives, and have never been told by anyone that they could not smoke. There are not a few of these folks, in her words, who will throw "a ring-eyed fit" if not allowed to smoke a cigarette.

It is a very good question. If anyone has the right to do whatever they bloody well please, it is these people who are in the sunset of their life-and this facility is the only home they have. Does the State of Tennessee have the right to tell these people, who have lived very full lives, that they can't smoke in their own home?

I am seeking clarification on this issue, so last night I called Frank Niceley, my State Representative. Frank said he was going to do some checking and find out just how the legislation would affect places like nursing homes. The Jeff County Nursing Home is also in Frank's district. He said he thought that was "a real good question."

I suspect, however, that there won't be much checking-the legislation seems pretty cut-and-dry. If implemented how it reads, it seems to me that the new law will affect nursing homes in the same way other places are affected. Nicole said that she wouldn't be surprised if a nursing home resident somewhere (or a person or group acting in their behalf) brings a suit and the smoking ban is overturned on Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment (equal protection) grounds. It would make for a really good court case, that's for sure.

NOTE (Fri:4/13): I received a message from Stacey Campfield. There will be an exception in the final bill for people in nursing homes and retirement facilities.



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