When tobacco interests realized that a coalition of anti-smoking health care organizations was presenting Ohio voters with a law that would virtually outlaw smoking in public places in Ohio, they went on the offense.
But the tobacco interests didn't just attack what is appearing on the Nov. 7 ballot as Issue 5, the Smoke-Free Ohio law. They placed a constitutional amendment on the ballot that would invalidate the anti-smoking law if it passed. It would also invalidate anti-smoking laws already passed in 21 Ohio cities and would prohibit any political subdivision in the state from restricting smoking in the future.
We want to emphasize the difference between these ballot issues -- beyond their philosophical positions on smoking. Issue 5 is a law presented by referendum and if it turns out to be burdensome, it could be amended by the Ohio General Assembly. Issue 4 is a constitutional amendment that would establish ironclad legal principles that could only be undone through the burdensome process of amending the Ohio Constitution.
As we have said more than once in this election season, Ohio's constitution is already overburdened with minutia. The last thing it needs is another amendment pushed by special interest groups, in this case the tobacco industry and tavern owners.
Issue 4, the constitutional amendment, "would prohibit smoking in enclosed areas except tobacco stores, private residences or nonpublic facilities, separate smoking areas in restaurants, most bars, bingo and bowling facilities, separated areas of hotels and nursing homes, and race tracks. The amendment would invalidate retroactively any ordinance or local law in effect, and would prohibit the future adoption of any ordinance or local law to the extent such ordinance or law prohibited smoking or tobacco products in anyplace exempted by the amendment."
The quoted sentences are what will appear on the Nov. 7 ballot.
Issue 5 is a state law that would "prohibit smoking in public places and places of employment;
"Exempt from the smoking restrictions certain locations, including private residences (except during the hours that the residence operates as a place of business involving non-residents of the private residence), designated smoking rooms in hotels, motels, and other lodging facilities; designated smoking areas for nursing home residents; retail tobacco stores, outdoor patios, private clubs, and family-owned and operated places of business;
"Authorize a uniform statewide minimum standard to protect workers and the public from secondhand tobacco smoke;
"Allow for the declaration of an establishment, facility, or outdoor area as nonsmoking;
"Require the posting of 'No Smoking' signs, and the removal of all ashtrays and similar receptacles from any area where smoking is prohibited;
"Specify the duties of the department of health to enforce the smoking restrictions
"Create in the state treasury the 'smoke free indoor air fund;'
"Provide for the enforcement of the smoking restrictions and for the imposition of civil fines upon anyone who violates the smoking restrictions. "
That's a lot to digest.
But what it comes down to is this: Outlawing smoking, even in bars and restaurants, is hardly a radical idea in 2006.
Times, it must be acknowledged, are changing. Fifty years ago, we recall, many junior high students saw an anti-smoking movie in which the main character was a newspaper man who worked at his desk with a cigarette dangling from his lips and an overflowing ashtray next to his Royal typewriter. It was no surprise to the students watching that he contracted lung cancer; the surprise came when a picture of a blackened lung that was removed from his chest flashed on screen.
It was no accident that the main character in that movie was a reporter. A reporter who smoked was as accurate a stereotype as you were likely to find in the 1950s.
But, as we said, times change. The newsroom in which theses words are being typed (on a Mac, not a Royal), has been smoke free for 15 years.
Change is all around
About the time that this newsroom went smoke-free, airlines were tightening up on smoking, banning it first on shorter flights. Now, no one even thinks about lighting up on an airplane.
And not that many years ago, the idea that smoking could be banned in bars and restaurants was revolutionary. Now it's a fact of life in many cities, large and small -- some even in Ohio. These days, more and more people who visit this area are likely to be shocked by our smoky taverns and the unpartitioned smoker and smoke-free areas in some area restaurants.
Times change, and Ohio law should change to meet those times. But passing a constitutional amendment such as Issue 4 impedes that kind of social evolution.
We believe that Issue 5 is good law that puts Ohio on a par with many other states and sends a message that Ohioans not only recognize that smoking is an annoyance to other patrons in a bar or restaurant, but is a health hazard to the people who must work in that environment for eight hours or more.
We strongly recommend passage of Issue 5, but understand if some people believe it goes too far.
Issue 4, however, is a terrible proposition and should get no support. It would chisel into Ohio's constitution rights for tobacco sellers and users that may have been assumed 50 years ago, but are fast growing old and tired and are dying off.