Thursday, August 26, 2004

Smoking ban debate begins

By Matt Leingang
Enquirer staff writer

AVONDALE - Calling it an important national issue that cannot be ignored in Cincinnati, Vice Mayor Alicia Reece on Wednesday opened public debate on a proposed indoor smoking ban for all workplaces, including bars and restaurants.

WCPO report, reader poll
Are in favor of or against a workplace smoking ban?
About 30 people showed up at the American Cancer Society's offices on Reading Road to join an advisory panel that will study the issue - from health and economic perspectives - and ultimately produce a report to City Council, possibly in November.

The panel, which includes citizens, business representatives and public health advocates, didn't take long to split into two camps: those who seek to protect workers and patrons from health problems linked to secondhand smoke, and those who argue that businesses should retain the freedom to decide their own smoking policies.

Opponents, mostly bar and restaurant owners, even objected to holding the meeting at the Cancer Society.

"Can't we be on neutral ground? I feel like I've been backed into a corner," said Tom Ford, co-owner of Murphy's Pub in Clifton Heights. He said he's concerned that a smoking ban would drive customers away.

Reece urged the panel to keep an open mind, and the discussion - while spirited - never got disrespectful.

Nationwide, more than 1,700 cities, including Toledo and Lexington, and 10 states have clean indoor air laws, according to the American Nonsmokers' Rights Foundation in Berkeley, Calif.

Columbus voters will decide a proposed smoking ban in November.

Cincinnati's advisory panel finished its 90-minute meeting by naming two co-chairs:

• Bobbie Sterne, former city mayor and councilwoman.

• Marjorie Perry, director of revenue management with the Cincinnati Hilton Netherland Plaza.

The panel will next meet Sept. 8, again at the Cancer Society.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, exposure to secondhand smoke, a carcinogen, leads to as many as 50,000 deaths each year from heart disease and 3,000 deaths from lung cancer.

Also controversial, though, is the economics of a smoking ban. Businesses, especially bars, claim that revenues sink by as much as 40 percent. But health advocates say those claims are exaggerated.

A study released last week by the University of Toledo and the Medical College of Ohio should add fuel to the fire. The study said that smoking bans in Toledo and Bowling Green have not hurt bars, restaurants and bowling alleys.

Researchers looked at financial data on 700 restaurants, bars and bowling centers that a private company compiles for banks. The financial outlooks of businesses in the Toledo suburbs of Maumee, Sylvania and Perrysburg remained the same, indicating that patrons are not fleeing the city.

Critics derided the $400,000 study because it was funded by the anti-smoking Ohio Tobacco Use and Control Foundation.



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