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Published: Friday, 12/10/2004

Tobacco foes press council for Wauseon smoking ban

BY JANE SCHMUCKER
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Former smoker Carl Lewis predicts that Wauseon restaurants will not suffer economically if they forbid smoking. Former smoker Carl Lewis predicts that Wauseon restaurants will not suffer economically if they forbid smoking.
KING / BLADE Enlarge

WAUSEON - Advocates of a smoking ban for Wauseon told City Council yesterday that it has a responsibility to follow the voters' directive and make the city a healthier place to work and dine out.

Eliminating secondhand tobacco smoke in restaurants, shops, and factories is a workplace safety issue, said Stuart Kerr, northwest Ohio regional policy coordinator with Tobacco-Free Ohio which is linked with the American Heart Association.

In addition, a smoking ban would encourage some workers who presently are allowed to smoke on the job to quit the habit, he said. And it would present a better role model for children, showing them that smoking is unacceptable indoors in almost any public place.

"Most of us are former smokers, so we know what we're talking about," Mr. Kerr said of the Tobacco-Free Fulton County group that put the smoking ban initiative on the Nov. 2 ballot.

The ban passed by 79 votes on Nov. 2 ballot, but the city's charter calls for such initiatives to go to council, which can adopt, amend, or reject the proposed ban. Yesterday, council met to listen to nine proponents of a smoking ban. Council had heard from a similar number of opponents last month.

It is expected to make a decision early next year.

Mr. Kerr, who called smoking a pediatric problem because most smokers start when they are young, was one of several people at yesterday's meeting who urged council to enact a ban for children.

The Rev. Scott Silcox, a pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in Wauseon, told council a ban "benefits our children the most."

If council feels it must weaken the ban voters approved, he urged it to forbid minors to enter any public areas where smoking is allowed. That, he said, would include preventing anyone under 18 from serving a meal in a smoking section of a restaurant.

Patti Creager, tumor registrar at Fulton County Health Center's oncology department, asked councilmen to think about children's interest in the political process as they consider the proposed ban.

"What message will this pass on to our children if voters have passed it and we don't follow through?" she asked.

Several speakers talked about restaurants elsewhere in Ohio and Indiana that saw increased business after management decided on its own to forbid smoking. Mrs. Creager mentioned a restaurant in Indiana. Jessica Stewart, an American Cancer Society representative based in Defiance, talked about a restaurant there.

Joan Laidlaw and Carl Lewis, who were leaders in the effort to put the smoking ban initiative on the ballot, predicted that Wauseon restaurants would not suffer economically under a smoking ban as some eatery managers have said is likely.

"Why not invite people to come and spend their money in healthy, smoke-free Wauseon?" Ms. Laidlaw asked.

Mr. Lewis, who speaks with a voice box after two battles with throat cancer, said the four privately owned restaurants that allow smoking now would see new customers - such as himself - who do not eat there now because of the smoke.

He blames his cancer on his own former smoking habit, but called secondhand smoke extremely dangerous as well. He breathes through a hole in his throat the size of a quarter. Surgeries for his cancer mean he can no longer breathe through either his mouth or nose.

Sharon Morr, director of corporate and community health promotion at Fulton County Health Center, said second-hand smoke is a public health issue. Opponents, she said, have incorrectly characterized the proposed smoking ban as an infringement on the freedom of business owners to decide how to operate their establishment.

"We do not in this country have the right to harm another person," she said.

Harold Stickley, who led opposition campaigns to the smoking initiative this year and last year when a slightly tougher ban failed at the polls by 12 votes, was one of the only opponents at yesterday's meeting. He did not address council.

One of his biggest disputes with the proposed ban is a section that would outlaw smoking throughout small shops, such as his auto repair business. The public is not allowed in a section of E&H Auto Clinic where he allows smoking, and the only employees who work in that area are smokers, he said.

What difference will it make to public health, he said after the meeting, if those employees smoke inside or outside the building. "Are we really going to clean up the air or just relocate the carcinogen by 20 feet?" he asked.

Contact Jane Schmucker at:

jschmucker@theblade.com

or 419-337-7780.



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