Friday, April 25, 2008

Foes of proposed indoor smoking ban gave county health board an earful at second hearing last night

By Melissa Hill
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

The battle between personal freedom and public health continued last night at the open forum held by the Woodford County Board of Health on the latest version of its proposed smoking ban. Although the board had changed the proposal, many residents continue to express their opposition to it.

“It’s disturbing that a small group of people want to get together and tell taxpayers what they can and can’t do in their businesses,” says Woodford County resident David Long. Many residents who attended the meeting shared his opinion, including farmer and liquor store owner Carol McDonald. “If it’s your business, it should be your choice,” says McDonald. “Every business should put up a sign and let the public know if they allow smoking or not.”

Since its first forum, in February, the health board addressed some residents' concerns. Health Department Director Garland VanZant laid out the changes to the proposal but said no final decisions have been made.

The definition of “reasonable distance” from a building entrance was changed from 25 feet to “not less than three feet from any outside public entrance to or open windows of any area in which smoking is prohibited.” Also, of particular interest to Midway and its restaurants, smoking would be permitted on restaurant patios and mandatory “No Smoking” signs will be provided by the health department at no cost to the entities. None of these issues were discussed by Woodford County residents or the board of health at last night’s forum.

Even with these modifications, some residents are still not satisfied with the proposed smoking ban. One Versailles resident and firefighter said, “I feel like I am being treated as a second class citizen because I smoke. I don’t want to live in a society where the government tells us what we can and can’t do.” Liquor store employee Cindy Reed, as well as other residents at the forum, said business people should have the freedom to choose how they want to run their businesses. “Choice is a God-given thing," she said. "I have heart disease and I am still a smoker, but it’s my choice.”

Other Woodford County residents have concerns about fines businesses will have to pay if customers break the rules and say the person or persons violating the smoking ban should have to pay the fine, not the business. As the proposal now stands, enforcement will be on a complaint basis and a person violating the ban would be fined up to $50. A person who owns, manages or operates a public place and fails to comply with the provisions of the regulation will be fined up to $100 for the first violation, up to $250 for the second, up to $500 for a third and up to $1,000 for the fourth and each additional violation within one year from the previous offense date. Some residents say these regulations are too harsh on the businesses because they are not responsible for their customer’s actions.

The exemption of “private clubs,” such as the Versailles post of the American Legion, is also a concern of some residents. Billy Wilson of Wilson’s Pool Room says it’s unfair to exempt certain businesses and not others. Although Wilson is not for the proposed smoking ban, he wants the same rules to apply to every person and every business in Woodford County. “This country’s going to hell,” alleged Wilson as he stormed out of the forum.

The first hearing brought out many supporters of the ban, but the sole supportive opinion last night came from American Cancer Society employee Cindy Young. “I want to thank the board of health for considering this,” she said. “We want to protect the health of workers; second-hand smoke causes cancer and disease. The American Cancer Society applauds you and we are behind you.”

County Judge-Executive John Coyle, chairman of the health board, stressed that no final decisions have been made regarding the ban and said the health board’s goal is to fully and fairly consider the health and economic impact the smoking ban would have on Woodford County residents and businesses. Coyle said the next meeting concerning the proposal will be on May 15 at 5:30 p.m. This meeting will be open to the public to observe but not to participate and a second reading of the regulation could be given and voted on. If it passes, July 1, 2008 would be the proposed effective date of the smoking ban.

No comments: