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Published: Wednesday, 1/31/2001

Let voters decide on smoking ban

Remember the good old days?

The drinking age was 18. Worldly teens could go into a bar and pound beers all night long.

Buying a gun was hassle-free. You could walk into a store and, within a few minutes, walk out with a firearm.

Wearing a seatbelt was optional, and relatively few people opted to buckle up. Statistics, proving that seatbelts save lives, be damned.

You could smoke anywhere you wanted. Whether inside your place of employment or on an airplane, lighting up was socially accepted.

Ah, the good old days.

Hey, wait a minute ... What were we thinking?

During the past 25 years, we have evolved into a more responsible society. Mothers Against Drunk Driving deserves credit for jump-starting our evolution.

Here's hoping anti-smoking advocates enjoy similar success. Future generations surely will shake their collective heads over our tolerance for smoking.

We have yet to receive a national wake-up call regarding smoking in public places, but one can sense we are headed in the right direction.

Take my evolution on this issue, for example. During my formative years, I thought inhaling second-hand smoke inside a restaurant was simply part of the dining experience. After all, cigarette ads on television made smoking seem cool.

I didn't know any better.

Then, at age 35, I moved to California and discovered that smoking wasn't as socially acceptable as I was led to believe. California gave its citizens, me included, the opportunity to vote on a proposition that would ban smoking in restaurants.

If only Ohio would give its citizens the same opportunity.

Let's bypass lawmakers, who could be influenced by intense lobbying from tobacco companies. Let's go the direct-democracy route: Let the people vote whether to ban smoking in all public places.

There's no doubt in my mind that Ohio voters would reject an anti-smoking initiative the first time it appeared on the ballot. Not because people like smoking - more than 70 percent of the state's adults don't smoke - but because they don't want the government telling them what to do.

I used to feel the same way. But that grand philosophic principle eventually gave way to common sense.

Why should anyone be forced to inhale smoke inside a restaurant? If you were sitting at a table and a person took out a radio and started playing music - music that annoyed you - loud enough that you had no choice but to listen, would you take a hear-no-evil approach? Smokers expect nonsmokers to smell no evil.

This soon will be a highly charged issue in our area. Dr. David Grossman, Lucas County's health commissioner, wants the Toledo-Lucas County board of health to pass a countywide ban on smoking in all enclosed public places.

While I commend Dr. Grossman's efforts, I question whether the regulation would be accepted by the public. Under the guidelines, restaurant owners would basically police themselves. Then, a fishy smell just might fill the air, compliments of rebellious owners.

A countywide vote - or better yet, a statewide vote - is the only way to remove all doubt about a smoking ban's legitimacy.

Russ Lemmon's column appears Wednesdays. Readers may contact him at 1-419-724-6122, or e-mail rlemmon@theblade.com.

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