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Friday, July 11, 2014
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Published: Friday, 7/13/2001

A delay, not a defeat

“You cannot fight against the future. Time is on our side.” - William Ewart Gladstone

The eminent Englishman, four times prime minister of Britain in the 19th century, was not talking about the dangers of cigarette smoking, but his message certainly applies.

Smokers are a distinct minority in our society, and the tide of public opinion will one day prevail. That makes the indefinite delay in the implementation of a countywide ban on smoking in public places a little less troublesome.

U.S. District Judge David Katz, just a day before the Toledo-Lucas County Health Department's ban was to take effect, has shifted the feverish battle between smokers and nonsmokers to the Ohio Supreme Court. Judge Katz wants the court to hear the legal challenge mounted by opponents of the ban, principally restaurant and tavern owners.

Judge Katz obviously was reluctant to let the ban - one of the toughest proposed anywhere - to go forward, hinting that perhaps such a step should be enacted legislatively. But as we have pointed out on numerous occasions, public safety rules and regulations are what appointed bodies such as the health board do. That's their function, and their responsibility. Attorney General Betty Montgomery's advisory opinion validated the health board's intent.

Ultimately, of course, the fact that cigarette smoke is potentially fatal not only to those who light up but to those who breathe the smoke secondhand will overwhelm those who consider it their “right” to do as they please to their own bodies and those of others.

It is ridiculous for the ban's opponents to suggest that nonsmokers who are troubled by cigarette smoke can simply stay away from their establishments.

Why should the majority have to make that choice? We would imagine there are a lot of Lucas County residents who do not smoke but who do enjoy bowling and yet stay away from joining a league because smoke fills the bowling alleys.

Restaurants that try to accommodate smokers and nonsmokers by designating separate dining sections cannot overcome the fact that smoke does not observe arbitrary boundaries. Customers who eat in a nonsmoking section often still notice the distinctly unpleasant odor of smoke in their hair and clothing when they leave.

Cigarettes and cigars remain a legal if deadly product, and nothing in the proposed ban would change that. But when an individual's “right” to smoke compromises the health of another, the rights of the latter must win out, despite the howls of protest from hospitality entrepreneurs fretting needlessly that their businesses are certain to be doomed.

Passing the ban along to the Ohio Supreme Court for a resolution means a lengthy delay in implementation. But the day will come when a smoke-free public environment is a fact and no longer a big deal.

William Ewart Gladstone's words remind us of that.



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