No decision on smoking ban

Wednesday, February 21, 2007
Large turnout at city council session for smoke-free discussion.

Greencastle will not become a smoke-free city -- at least not right now -- as members of the city council and community remain divided on the issue.

Opinions seemed to be split down the middle at Tuesday night's city council meeting where those who support a citywide ban on smoking in public places faced off with those who oppose it.

The audience of about 50 people at city hall was congenial throughout the lengthy conversation that ended with the council taking no action on the matter.

About half the city officials who spoke about the ban Tuesday night said they preferred leaving the issue for someone else to decide while the other half seemed willing to give the idea some more thought.

Council member Tom Roach said he did not want to be part of the group that decides this issue, adding that he would not support an across-the-board ban on smoking at this point.

Council member Mark Hammer said he thinks a citywide smoking ban is something for "the next council" to decide. He said he feels the Putnam County Commissioners may be the better group to address this issue.

Mayor Nancy Michael, along with council President John Lanie and member Russ Evans, said they want to hear more discussion before deciding whether to take up the issue or not.

Council member Bob Sedlack was the only one who seemed ready to rule on the issue Tuesday night, calling on the city attorney to draft an ordinance, banning smoking across the city, by the council's March meeting. However his wishes seem unlikely to come true since the council did not vote on the matter Tuesday night.

Out in the audience, people appeared to be similarly split on the issue, with some asking for a widespread ban against smoking in public places and others wanting to preserve what they feel is their right to smoke at the place of their choosing.

"I resent government mandates," Greencastle resident and business owner Scott Eaton told the council. "I consider it coercion."

Local resident Tim Spurlock, who said he was representing the private clubs in Greencastle, predicted the demise of organizations like the Moose Lodge if the city wipes out smoking in those establishments.

He said he believes the owners of these establishments should have the right to choose for themselves if smoking is right for their business or not.

"We are not against a smoke-free ordinance," Spurlock said. "We are against a mandate."

On the other side of the aisle, local resident and musician Tad Robinson categorized the smoking ban as a civil rights issue.

"It's past time to correct the problem," he said, calling for "sensible regulations" on smoking in the city.

Former Greencastle resident David Newgent, a reformed smoker of 30 years, took a more idealistic approach.

"If we all quit, maybe the cigarette companies will go broke," he said.

Despite their differences, all who attended Tuesday night's meeting seemed to agree on one issue -- smoking is hazardous to human health.

Members of the Putnam County Tobacco Prevention and Cessation group, who sported green T-shirts that read, "everyone has the right to breathe smoke-free air," voiced statistics outlining the medical, economic and social impacts of smoking in the United States.

The group's leader, Meredith Williams, said that between 35,000 and 65,000 Americans die from smoke-related health problems each year. Further she said smokers miss more work than non-smokers, have higher health costs and waste working hours by taking smoke breaks throughout the day.

Local family physician Dr. Brian Black said there are greater than 4,000 chemicals, or carcinogens, contained in cigarettes that are harmful to human health. He said non-smokers, who inhale secondhand smoke, are considerably more likely to develop cancer than the smokers themselves.

But for people like Clayton Cox, who works at a business where smoking is allowed, the issue comes down to personal choices.

"I know it's bad for you, but leave us the choice to do it," he said.

Tuesday night's discussion was the first of its kind for the city council and opinions were split on whether it was the right time and place for such a conversation.

Mayor Michael said she held off on bringing up the issue for more than a year, but after speaking with local business owners and health officials, she decided it could wait no longer.

"I thought, at first, it was way too big for us," Michael said in a previous interview with the BannerGraphic.

No future meetings specifically discussing a citywide smoking ban are planned at this time, however, the Greencastle League of Women Voters and the local smoking cessation group have planned an educational forum on the dangers of secondhand smoke in March.

The public is invited to hear more information on smoking and what other cities are doing at 7 p.m. March 8. The tentative location is the basement of Gobin Church, on the DePauw University campus.

Organizers say they are not going to discuss a Greencastle smoking ban, rather they will talk about the facts relating to smoking in the workplace and let the people decide for themselves how they feel about the issue.

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