Brian Bohannon  /  AP
Gregg Dedrick, president of KFC, speaks at a news conference July 21, 2004, in Louisville, Ky. Yum Brands Inc., the parent of KFC and Pizza Hut restaurants, on Thursday announced its decision to snuff out smoking at the KFC and Pizza Hut restaurants it owns nationwide.
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msnbc.com contributor
updated 8/12/2005 7:08:07 PM ET 2005-08-12T23:08:07
COMMENTARY

In the spirit of "no good deed should go unpunished," let us reflect together upon the oddness of the announcement Thursday by Yum Brands Inc. (no, I did not make that name up) that they plan to make their KFC and Pizza Hut restaurants smoke-free.

The corporate titans at Yum said no-smoking signs will be posted beginning next week at the 1,200 KFC and 1,675 Pizza Hut restaurants across the country that they directly own. It will be up to the other 8,800 outlets owned by franchisees to decide if their customers can no longer top off their extra-crispy chicken, gravy and biscuits with a smoke.

Now, I am not a critic of making restaurants smoke-free. I have no sympathy for the standard libertarian line that goes "if you don’t want to eat in a restaurant where smokers congregate, eat at home." In my opinion, all restaurants should be smoke-free — not just because inhaling secondhand smoke is known to reduce your odds in the long run of coming back for seconds, but because, among other things, smoke stinks. It ruins the taste of food.

Restaurants are places to eat. Smoking has no more place in a restaurant than does burning your trash. Smoking can be done outside. Your freedom ends at the end of my fork. There is no ethical case — absolutely none — for allowing smoking in restaurants. (Satisfied now, all you anti-smoking zealots? I have been assimilated.)

Nor am I a frothing critic of fast food. As my bathroom scale will confirm, I like all kinds of food — immobile, slow, accelerating and fast. Fast food has its place and while I cannot stand the "pizza" at Pizza Hut, the greasy, cholesterol-infused offerings at KFC do have their artery-clogging charms.

No, my problem with Yum taking the high road when it comes to demon tobacco is that this is a company that took the low road in a big way when it came to public health. This is the same company that took the "Fried" out of Kentucky Fried Chicken and opted for the more nutritionally ambiguous name of KFC. They transformed themselves into KFC precisely because they were worried about whether you would buy their products if they kept telling you they were fried.

Heck, these corporate suits even got rid of Colonel Sanders, their chief spokesperson. The portly gentleman seemed to remind people that what they were eating might not be the most nutritious foodstuffs to be found on our fruited plain. He was sent to oblivion faster than the tabloids have gotten rid of Britney Spears.

I don’t want to pick on the corporate masters of the universe at Yum, but as we say to one another where I work — in between bites of Original Recipe — "physician, heal thyself." It is hard to lead the charge to improve the nation's health when you are slipping the public mounds of mozzarella cheese, honey barbecued wings and pecan pie.

Arthur Caplan is director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania.

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