Restaurants are a public place; patrons should not be subjected to smoke |

Restaurants are a public place; patrons should not be subjected to smoke

In Wednesday’s Summit Daily News, James Lewis wrote a letter to the editor about the SmokeFree Summit ballot initiative. He is misinformed on several points. Summit County citizens deserve to hear the truth.

He refers to a small group of breathers having the gall to inflict its beliefs on Summit County. In fact, aren’t we all breathers? Most of us (91 percent in Summit County on recent survey) choose to breathe fresh air when we dine, and simply choose not to breathe known, verifiable poisons.

He very narrowly defines a public place only as a government building. In fact, anytime a private business hangs out a sign, advertises and solicits the general public to come on in, it then becomes a public enclosed space, subject to licensing and other health and safety regulations. This is why bars and taverns in England are called pubs – they are public accommodations.

Certainly one’s home is private, and perhaps members-only clubs are private in the sense that they are exempt from certain licensing, codes and regulations, but this exemption does not extend to businesses open to the public. A public place, by definition, inherits a measure of liability for it’s patrons and the welfare of its employees.

Fifty years ago, before the state adopted the landmark Sabin public health laws, tuberculosis and other serious illnesses were commonly and unknowingly spread by unsafe restaurants and bars that served tainted food and drinks. With education and increased knowledge, we did better when we knew better. The current and growing knowledge regarding second-hand smoke demands that we respond in a similar fashion. To ignore the evidence is irresponsible, and we all bear the burden.

Now, even if the public wishes to patronize an unsafe restaurant, government (we, the people) strives to protect them. But why should it be limited with respect to poisonous air. Government also needs the capability to protect customers and employees from the serious health risk of exposure to toxin-filled indoor air.

The county commissioners are to be commended on their wisdom in submitting this question to a vote of the people.

Perhaps we will someday have leadership at the state level to address this issue, a la New York, California, Florida, Delaware, Maine, Connecticut, etc.

Currently, our state-level leadership sides with the tobacco “merchant of death” interests. Ask yourself, WHY? The tobacco lobby and their handmaiden restaurant associations seek only weak statewide legislation designed to preempt local ordinances (where the people have clearly spoken) and to protect the tobacco companies’ financial self-interests. Should this continued greed and public-be-damned attitude be our legacy? They have little concern about protecting the health of restaurant/bar employees and customers. Many restaurant/bar owners actually do care, as evidenced by their courage to go smoke-free, but they have little influence over the associations’ policies.

We cannot afford to wait for our current elected officials to get around to making this a priority, especially with the lobbyists in the front and center row. We are obliged to take action on the local level and challenge weak statewide proposals. We are making our own opportunity on Nov. 4.

Judith Conway


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