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Thursday, November 27, 2014
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Published: Sunday, 6/17/2001

A cloud of smoke

State Sen. Lynn Wachtmann shows shortsightedness and disregard for the public good with his proposal to remove a legitimate health issue from public health boards' authority.

His obvious target: the Toledo-Lucas County Board of Health and its newly enacted ban on smoking in public places.

Senator Wachtmann, a Republican from Napoleon, apparently is convinced that politicians, not health experts, should decide whether smoking ought to be permitted in Ohio bars and restaurants.

The evidence contradicts him. Ohio has the third highest rate of smoking among adults in the nation - 27.6 percent - one of the reasons Ohio's cancer death rate is significantly higher than the national rate.

Yet the Wachtmann bill, SB128, would prevent local boards of health from enacting and enforcing orders and regulations “related to the sale or use of cigarettes” without local legislative approval.

Isn't that what Maumee officials have been saying they want, the right to ignore the new countywide ban? They must be delighted that a state senator from a neighboring district is sympathetic.

However, except for the unhappiness of bar and restaurant owners who mistakenly believe that a smoking ban will hurt their business, it's difficult to see what the fuss is about here. Nonsmokers far outnumber smokers and have the right to breathe air free of secondhand smoke. Moreover, and more importantly, smoking-related illnesses kill 20,000 Ohioans every year.

Tobacco's threat to public health is no longer debatable. It harms. It kills. Regulating the exposure of nonsmokers is a perfectly legitimate function of boards of health. That's what they do.

Given the political liability inherent in legislating contrary to facts, common sense, and court settlements, why would Mr. Wachtmann want to meddle with such an obvious public health issue?

If this bill passes, and it will require resolve on the part of sensible legislators and Governor Taft to assure that it does not, what's next?

Will Mr. Wachtmann want to exclude the same restaurants and bars from health inspections, because a bad inspection might hurt business? Will somebody decide that health boards should stop testing wells and septic systems and calling public attention to problems they find?

Will someone mandate that county boards of health should defer to county commissioners or city councils on questions of primary and preventive care, including immunizations?

If health boards carry out their extensive duties with hardly a complaint, they don't suddenly become incompetent to dictate that cigarette smoke, a proven clear and present danger, be kept out of certain public venues.

Understandably some legislators are feeling heat from the bar and restaurant establishments where they may hold some of their fund-raisers, but their first obligation remains promoting the public welfare.



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