A YEAR ago, when Findlay began to look at a ban on smoking in public places, we saw it as an encouraging sign that other northwest Ohio communities were following Toledo's lead and embracing the principle of the right to good health over the right to smoke. Restaurant and bar patrons, as well as the workers who serve them, have a right to breathe air that is not going to poison their lungs.
Today, however, Findlay is on the verge of choking.
Instead of a comprehensive prohibition on smoking in public places, Findlay's city council may vote next Tuesday on a measure that is so impotent that what we thought was a noble intent to protect the public welfare could vanish in a smoky blue haze.
Findlay's lame effort, deliberated by an ad hoc committee and presented to council, would ban smoking in manufacturing plants, but would do virtually nothing about smoking in bars, night clubs, bowling alleys, and restaurants.
A requirement that larger restaurants would be required to have designated - but not separate or separately ventilated smoking areas - is absurd. Secondhand smoke ignores no-smoking signs.
Findlay Health Commissioner Stephen Mills, who was hoping for something much stronger, says the proposal is worthless in protecting the health of Findlay residents who patronize or work in local bars and restaurants. The board of health should vigorously lobby city council to table the do-nothing ordinance until legislation with substance can be introduced.
Given Findlay's surprising timidity, we wonder if efforts by Tobacco Free Ohio to pursue bans in individual communities, one after the other, is really the way to go. We still maintain that a statewide constitutional amendment would give Ohio voters a chance to declare their entire state smoke-free in public places.
Findlay Councilman David Cliffe insists that there is consensus on the proposed ordinance. Evidently the health commissioner disagrees, and so does a group called Clean Air Now, which seeks a comprehensive ban.
The group says one option if the ordinance passes would be to place a referendum on the ballot that would rescind the measure and replace it with one with stronger restrictions.
It shouldn't come to that. Findlay City Council has an opportunity next week to display backbone, show it understands the serious, proven risks of secondhand smoke, and put the health of the public it serves above other considerations.
Despite the cynical indifference of suburban communities around Toledo to follow the city's lead and adopt their own smoking bans - suburban establishments invite patrons to "light up here," as if breathing cancer-causing smoke and smelling like an ashtray were an inducement to a good night out - most citizens still want smoke-free public places.
Toledo's tough approach should be instructive for Findlay. This isn't about taking the path of least resistance on a controversial issue. It's about doing the right thing. Findlay still has time to fix its toothless "ban." Failure to do so means all efforts invested so far have been a waste of time.