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SURGEON General C. Everett Koop contends that the ``private'' smoking of tobacco is really more public than smokers would like to claim. Segregating smokers from nonsmokers in homes, offices, aircraft and trains, and public places like restaurants does not end the commingling of the air they breathe. Dr. Koop concludes that banning public indoor smoking, not just segregating smokers, is desirable wherever possible. Some 35 percent of businesses have already adopted smoking policies, Koop points out. More than 70 communities have put curbs on smoking in private-sector workplaces, and states like Massachusetts are preparing restrictions on on-the-job smoking by state employees.

One would prefer that the issue of smoking in public places, or even in one's home, not be made a battle between those who do and those who don't.

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And the case for a smoke-free environment need not be based so heavily on the health threat to smoker and nonsmoker, which in this instance is what gives the surgeon general the occasion to take a stand.

Between simple courtesy and the insistence on ``rights'' which others might find annoying, the public can make the gentler choice: for consideration of the comfort and feelings of family, fellow workers, and friends, and for a physically purer environment.

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