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Published: Sunday, 10/1/2006

NO on 4, YES on 5

The art of political subterfuge is as old as the republic, but seldom has it carried a public health risk.

Special interests, including big tobacco, who say they want to regulate smoking in public places - but really don't - are already hard at work trying to muddle the issue by offering voters a little trick with smoke and mirrors on the Nov. 7 ballot.

We believe that if Ohioans keep their eyes on the prize, the confusion will melt away and they will vote NO on Issue 4 and YES on Issue 5, the only true and comprehensive smoking ban on the ballot, placed there by a coalition of health professionals called SmokeFreeOhio.

Though its spot on the ballot still faces a technical challenge from its opponents, Issue 5 could not be plainer or more to the point. It will prohibit smoking in most public places, including places of employment. It will not ban smoking in private homes, and it will allow designated smoking rooms in hotels, motels, and nursing homes, retail tobacco stores, outdoor patios, and private clubs.

We also believe that Ohioans will see through the smoke screen that is Issue 4, a separate ballot issue advanced by a group called Smoke Less Ohio and put forth for one purpose: to sow confusion.

It would allow smoking to continue in a variety of public establishments, including restaurants, bars, bowling alleys, and bingo halls, as well as offices, factories, and retail stores if minors are not present.

What kind of "ban" is that?

Take a look at the sponsors of both issues; it's very instructive.

SmokeFreeOhio, the organization backing Issue 5's comprehensive ban, is a coalition composed of the Ohio affiliates of the American Heart Association, the American Lung Association, and the American Cancer Society, plus the Ohio Hospital Association, the Association of Ohio Health Commissioners, and the Ohio State Medical Association. Not much doubt about their commitment to public health.

Smoke Less Ohio? The tavern owners, the beverage association, and the tobacco companies, principally R. J. Reynolds. They hope you'll see the name "Smoke Less" and think "smokeless." But the last thing they want is a smokeless Ohio. They really should be listed on the ballot as the "Smoke More" amendment. They seek to preserve the status quo.

However, the status quo doesn't cut it any more. America is embarked on a relentless march toward a largely smoke-free society, a time when those who choose not to smoke will no longer have to risk their health by breathing the secondhand smoke of others.

And the risk cannot be in doubt. The surgeon general of the United States ended that debate in June, concluding that secondhand smoke exposure causes disease and premature death in children and adults who do not smoke, puts children at increased risk for sudden infant death syndrome, respiratory infections, and asthma, and produces immediate harm to the cardiovascular system.

When it comes to secondhand smoke, the surgeon general said, there is no risk-free level of exposure. Yet Issue 4 would enshrine secondhand smoke in our state constitution.

That presents another important distinction. Issue 5 will simply amend Ohio law, but because Issue 4 is a constitutional amendment, it will prevail if both issues pass on Nov. 7, and only another constitutional amendment could ever change it.

It would also negate anti-smoking laws in 21 Ohio cities, including Toledo, Bowling Green, Findlay, and Wauseon, which were among the earliest communities in our state to ride the wave toward a smoke-free society. And because it would be in the state constitution, no community could enact a tougher ban of its own.

For all those reasons, it is imperative that Ohioans cut through the confusion thrown at them by those who want smokers to keep puffing away. Citizens who care about their own health, and the health of their children, can make a strong statement on Election Day by overwhelmingly approving Issue 5 and adding Ohio to the list of 14 states with tough smoke-free laws.

NO on 4. YES on 5. The choice is clear. Hopefully, after Nov. 7, we can all say the same thing about the air we breathe.

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