The man featured in local television ads stripping off a white collar protecting a surgical hole in his neck spoke out yesterday urging voters to reject Issue 4, an initiative on the Nov. 2 ballot that would weaken Toledo's smoking ban.
"I'm not exactly a polished public speaker," said Richard Fox, 57, of Oregon, through a throat opened by a surgical laryngectomy.
He spoke about how his mother, his favorite uncle, his friends, and his co-workers all smoked. And though he didn't, "I got my cancer probably from the secondhand smoke of others," he said during a news conference at the city health department.
The event was sponsored by Citizens for a Healthy Toledo, a group campaigning to protect Toledo's existing smoking ban.
Mr. Fox underwent two operations for cancer: the first to remove his throat, and the second, six years later, to remove part of a lung. But he said for him, the issue is even more personal than his own condition. His big brother, Donald Fox, who was also a nonsmoker, died at age 38 of cancer of the tongue, jaw, and neck.
"Sometimes in the wintertime, when we were growing up, the air in the kitchen would be blue. Secondhand
smoke wasn't even a word," he said.
Members of Citizens for Common Sense - a group of bar and restaurant owners supporting Issue 4 - said yesterday Mr. Fox's condition is tragic, but health officials are focusing on the wrong things to stop conditions like his.
"It's an awful thing that some people get cancer and others don't. Cancer is a terrible disease. America would probably be a better place if people didn't smoke at all," said Jim Avolt, a leading member of Citizens for Common Sense and owner of The Distillery in South Toledo. "But the reality of the situation is that 30 percent of Toledoans do smoke, and the majority of patrons of adult destinations smoke. We let the customers decide what they want."
"Mr. Fox's case is just one example," said Toledo Deputy Health Commissioner Larry Vasko, who also attended the news conference. "There are many people like him - victims of heart disease and cancer - who have suffered from second-hand smoke. And those are the two leading causes of death in the Toledo area."
"Putting 16 Toledo businesses out of business doesn't make people in Toledo any healthier," Mr. Avolt said. "Those against the amendment should concentrate their efforts on getting people to stop smoking, not on putting people out of business."
Some of the most candid statements came from Mr. Fox long after the news conference, as he walked to his car alone in the October rain, without an umbrella.
"I hope I didn't come across sounding like a preacher or a martyr," Mr. Fox said, hands in his pockets, hunched against the weather. "I just want to give some meaning to my brother's life. He was really a great guy. I don't want people to be killed by those same mistakes."
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