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Wednesday, October 18th, 2006

State smoking issues could deceive voters

By Shelley Grieshop
Voters in November can choose where smokers can light up, but first they need to take a closer look at the two choices that are sure to confuse many people at the polls.
Registered voters can vote yes or no on Issue 4 and Issue 5, which are opposing stances on where tobacco smoking should be allowed in Ohio.
Issue 4 is a proposed amendment to Ohio's Constitution that restricts smoking in about 90 percent of businesses in Ohio but allows business owners - particularly those that cater exclusively to adults - to decide the issue themselves. Issue 4 is supported by the Smoke Less Ohio coalition and financially backed by tobacco companies like R.J. Reynolds and portions of the hospitality industry.
Issue 5 is a proposed law that would prohibit smoking in all public places and places of employment with the exception of private residences and other designated businesses such as hotels and private clubs. Issue 5 is backed by organizations like the American Cancer Society and health agencies across the state.
What voters really need to know is that a "yes" vote on both would pass Issue 4 and defeat Issue 5. If Issue 4 passes, it would overturn smoke-free laws already on the books in 21 cities across Ohio and require a constitutional amendment to reverse.
Dr. Philip Masser, the health commissioner in Mercer County, said the choice is a health issue and an important one for every citizen. People who work in environments where smoking is allowed have an extremely high risk of cancer and other health problems, he said.
"Not everyone has a choice where they can work," he said. "And even on a short-term basis, breathing in secondhand smoke can be potentially hazardous. If people truly are in favor of a smoke-free environment, they must vote no on 4 and yes on 5."
Masser believes Issue 4 is a "smoke screen," deliberately designed to confuse people to vote for something they don't really want.
"I would not tell someone how to vote, but I would tell people to be sure they're voting for what they really want. I would predict that if we're not vigilant, there will be problems at the ballot in November," he said.
It would take another constitution amendment placed on the ballot to reverse Issue 4 if it passes in next month's general election.
Jacob Evans, a spokesman for Smoke Less Ohio, admits tobacco use is unhealthy but believes people's rights are paramount. In an interview with The Daily Standard, he said adults have a right to choose whether they want to smoke or be around smoke, just as they have the right to overeat or indulge in other unhealthy habits.
"We're talking about a legal product (tobacco) here," he said. "What this comes down to is how important are our freedoms."
When asked about nonsmokers' rights to breathe clean air, Evans acknowledged those rights and agreed everyone's freedoms should be protected.
"Smokers have a right to light up in establishments where it is allowed and nonsmokers can choose not to go there," he said

At a glance:
Issue 4
• Would prohibit smoking in most enclosed areas, but would allow it at bars, bingo and bowling facilities, tobacco stores, race tracks, private homes and separate smoking areas in restaurants, hotels and nursing homes.
It would reverse all current smoke-free ordinances already adopted in communities/cities across Ohio.

Issue 5
• Would prohibit smoking in public places and places of employment to protect workers and the public from secondhand tobacco smoke. If passed, the department of health would enforce the smoking restrictions with civil fines. Enforcement costs would be paid with a smoke-free indoor air fund created in the state treasury.
Exempt from the smoking restrictions of Issue 5 would be private homes, designated smoking rooms in hotels, motels and other lodging businesses, designated smoking areas for nursing home residents, retail tobacco stores, outdoor patios, private clubs and family-owned and operated businesses.
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