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Published: Thursday, 7/28/2005

Van Wert gets ready for feud on smoke ban

VAN WERT, Ohio - After high-profile battles last fall in Toledo and Columbus, the smoking ban concept has arrived in this small city near the Indiana border.

City Council members in Van Wert, population about 10,700, are preparing for debate on the topic. Some time in the next month, they plan to hold a public meeting to allow residents to air their views on the topic. Because the room in which the council meets holds only about 25 people they are trying to find a larger room for the meeting.

"Since there's been discussion, I decided, and my committee decided, to at least hold a committee meeting, so that's where we are now," said Councilman Stan Agler, who heads the health-and-safety committee, which will hold the forum.

"I don't expect to have a large series of meetings," Mr. Agler said. "This will give the public opportunity to give comment, on both sides."

He's already heard from both sides, he added.

"I've had people contact me at home," Mr. Agler said. "I've had about nine to 10 calls opposing a ban, and about five or six calls saying they would support it."

The discussion remains at the conceptual stage, as no one has actually proposed a ban. But Councilman Steve Gehres believes folks should consider the idea. The former mayor, who quit smoking himself in 1968, thinks the health risks of secondhand smoke merit debate.

"A person may have the right to smoke, but they don't have the right to spread carcinogens or chemicals that hurt the heart," Mr. Gehres said.

The council's next meeting is Aug. 8. The council hopes to have a date and place for the committee meeting by then.

Van Wert is not the only area small city that has considered the issue. Wauseon, with a population of about 7,100, passed a ban in 2004.

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