THE best argument for Toledo's once-restrictive ban on smoking in public places is that it appears to have had a quantifiable, healthy effect on the region while it lasted. A survey of smokers in the area shows a significant number of them quit during the short life of the city's original clean indoor air ordinance.
Skeptics will note that the survey was done by the Tobacco Use Prevention and Cessation Foundation, the organization behind the "Stand" anti-smoking media campaign in Ohio.
But the research was conducted in a collaborative effort with the Ohio Department of Health, the Research Triangle Institute, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and speaks for itself.
According to data polled from 4,000 Ohio adults, smoking in Ohio declined by four percentage points last year. That drop, says the foundation, represents an estimated 375,000 Ohioans.
It is even more encouraging that the biggest drop happened in northwest Ohio, notorious for having the highest rate in the state in 2003 at 32.2 percent. It was down to 20.4 percent last year.
Foundation executive director Mike Renner concedes that the dramatic declines in smoking, especially in an area that once led the nation, could be the result of a statistical blip that will have to be verified in another survey next summer.
Still, we believe the numbers are headed in the right direction. "Our hard work on the front lines of tobacco control is paying off," said Mr. Renner. "In just five years, we have expanded tobacco prevention and cessation programming to every Ohio county and the results are astonishing."
The populations that experienced the greatest smoking decline over the year in Ohio were women, down to 26.1 percent from 30.3 percent, and African-American adults, who dropped from 27.9 percent to 21.1 percent.
If the research holds true and Ohio's declining rates are actually outpacing downward national trends, anti-smoking advocates have every reason to celebrate and renew their commitment to fight the harmful habit.
The campaign to educate people not to smoke and help those who do to quit is working. Even Ohioans who smoke are four times more aware of cessation programs in their community than a year ago.
It's a start to breathing easier and the best argument for smoking bans.