Saving women from rape, one cigarette at a time

Opponents of a proposed smoking ban in Alaska argue that it would increase women's chances of rape.

Published July 27, 2006 6:38PM (EDT)

Thanks to reader Kate from Anchorage, Alaska, for tipping us off to a confounding debate going on in her town. Apparently, opponents of the city's proposed smoking ban are arguing that the ban would pose an increased rape risk for women. They say the proposal -- which aims to eliminate smoking in bars -- would force women to light up outside, thereby exposing them to sexual predators.

In a letter to the Anchorage Daily News, Frank Dahl, chairman of the political action committee of the Anchorage Cabaret, Hotel, Restaurant & Retailers Association, made the bizarre connection: "At a time when we are legitimately concerned with assaults against women, ask yourself, is it better to allow the continuation of smokers in a controlled bar atmosphere, or for women to go outside to smoke a cigarette to be the target of the sexual predators and violence we hear so much about?"

What's more, an Op-Ed in the Anchorage Daily News notes that opponents of the ban say many female smokers would be so deterred by such a restriction that "instead of hanging out in the smoky safety of a bar, some women ... may even stay home, where they may have an abusive husband or boyfriend who is more likely to beat them up." Women aren't safe at home or on the street, the argument goes, but they're plenty safe in a bar. Let's hear it for Alaskan women's last safe haven: the smoky, booze-filled pub!

Something tells me that increasing public awareness and advocating for harsher penalties for domestic violence and rape -- particularly in a state that has consistently ranked among the worst rape rates in the country -- might do more for the safety of women than protecting smoking in bars. But let's not pretend that this argument is actually about women's health or safety. If it were, these lobbyists might mention the recent finding that women are more likely than men to develop lung cancer from smoking, or that smoking bans in workplaces have improved employee health and have proved successful at encouraging people to smoke less.

By Tracy Clark-Flory

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