The Toledo-Lucas County health board's confusion over a city ordinance should be no impediment to enactment of a smoking ban in public places, which is what the board must do at its earliest opportunity.
Toledo City Council can clear the way for the countywide smoking ban by clarifying the 1987 ordinance, which requires no-smoking areas in restaurants and bars. The majority of residents who do not smoke fully expect the ban to supersede any city ordinance, and there's no reason why it shouldn't.
To outside observers and, indeed, to health board president Dr. John Newton, thrusting controversy over the city ordinance into last-minute deliberation on the smoking ban appeared to be an effort to sandbag the regulation, and prevent it from being passed. That must not be allowed to happen. If the ordinance has been on Toledo's books for 14 years, why does it only come to light as the final vote on a countywide ban is about to be taken?
Implementation of the ban already has the imprimatur of Attorney General Betty Montgomery. It was clumsy of the city law department not to forestall the confusion when, on March 27, it issued an analysis saying that the health regulation wouldn't conflict with any state law. Instead, the law department ignored the question of a conflict with the city ordinance.
If members of City Council are squeamish about stepping into the controversy because they have friends in the restaurant business, or more to the point, because they must run for re-election in the fall, they should be reminded that there is a huge and largely silent majority in this dispute - the great majority of Toledoans who do not smoke, and who would appreciate not having to breathe the secondhand smoke of those who do.
Opponents, led by the restaurant and bar owners, should be seen for what they are - a noisy minority with misplaced and exaggerated economic concerns. They want to protect the status quo at all costs, even if the status quo is undeniably injurious to the public health, and even though a similar ban in California has had a positive, not negative, impact on the hospitality business.
Above all, it must be remembered that there is no constitutional right for anyone to blow smoke into other people's faces. The ban is a public-health measure, and the health being protected is not just that of the smokers but of the great majority of people who don't light up.
The health board voted 5-4 in favor of the ban, with one of the 11-member panel absent and another abstaining, so a sixth vote is still necessary to put it into effect. Once City Council deals with the 1987 ordinance - action which could come as soon as this week - there should be no further reason for the board not to reconvene and do its duty.
The smoking ban is a measure whose time has come, and further delay in enacting it is inexcusable. It clearly is in the best interests of the residents of Toledo and Lucas County, and it is in line with progressive public health policy being promulgated nationwide. This is no time to take a step backward into the smoke-filled rooms of the past.
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