Sunday, July 18, 2004

Open debate on ban

Should Cincinnati join Lexington, Columbus and other cities in extending smoke-free protection to employees and nonsmokers in restaurants, bars and other such businesses?

'The more things change, the more they stay the same" is an adage that appears to apply to the current debate on a more stringent smoking ban for Cincinnati, with many of the expressed concerns being similar to those in public hearings in 1985, when the Cincinnati Board of Health passed one of the first smoking regulations in the country.

However, even though the arguments for and against have remained similar, the scientific evidence regarding the harmful effects of secondhand tobacco smoke has continuously grown, and the changes in public perception and the limitations on the use of tobacco have far exceeded most predictions at the time the board passed this measure.

In 1985, major employers in Cincinnati joined restaurant, bar and bowling alley interests in predicting increased costs, decreased productivity and loss of patrons to businesses outside Cincinnati that would continue to allow smoking. Despite exemptions for private business offices, bars, bowling alleys and smoking sections in restaurants, passage of the regulation was strongly opposed by many that have since joined the growing list of establishments and organizations that have gone smoke-free. These include large and small businesses, government offices, hospitals, health departments and entertainment venues.

Today, the Board of Health's regulation simply represents the minimum restrictions most people expect in light of the disease-causing effects of secondhand tobacco smoke. Even tobacco industry officials now acknowledge the harmful effects of their products, which include heart disease, respiratory illness, cancer, low birth weight, asthma attacks, stroke and emphysema.

A recent survey in Cincinnati shows how far we have come, finding that a majority of people who smoke support the need for tighter restrictions on smoking in public places. It is, therefore, not surprising to see that Columbus, Lexington, New York City and Massachusetts have enacted stringent smoking bans, with 100 Massachusetts cities previously enacting such bans.

Vice Mayor Alicia Reece, chair of City Council's Health, Tourism, Small Business and Employment Committee, has asked the Cincinnati Health Department to form an advisory panel to study the issues and report on its findings related to such a ban for Cincinnati. And even as this work begins, Rep. Lynn Olman announced his intent to introduce a bill that would ban smoking throughout Ohio.

Clearly, trends across the country and in Ohio indicate that more has changed in favor of smoking bans than has remained in support of their opposition.

Having said that, the deliberations of the advisory panel must consider all opinions and concerns expressed on this matter both for and against, and I believe the open debate will move Cincinnati to a healthier place.


Malcolm P. Adcock is Cincinnati health commissioner.

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