Are we moving toward a smokefree Kent?

Andrew Bergman

If all works as planned for health services groups, the smell of cigarette smoke may not be as evident in the coming years.

Efforts are being made here on Kent State’s campus and throughout the city, county and state to benefit the health of non-smokers and smokers alike.

One reason may be the information available in the comprehensive scientific report issued by U.S. Surgeon General Richard H. Carmona on June 27 in a press release from the U.S Department of Health and Human Services. The report states that nonsmokers who are exposed to secondhand smoke increase their chance of developing lung cancer by 20 to 30 percent and increase their chance of developing heart disease by 25 to 30 percent.

It also reports that secondhand smoke, which the EPA has dubbed a class A carcinogen, is a known cause of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), respiratory problems, ear infections and asthma attacks.

Alexis Blavos, executive committee member of Eta Sigma Gamma, a national professional honorary for men and women in health education, said they are actively campaigning to make the only building on campus that allows smoking, the Student Center, smokefree.

Smoking is allowed in the Rathskeller, as well an upstairs computer lab.

Blavos said Eta Sigma Gamma is working to improve the health of nonsmokers as well as with the general health of everyone as the group campaigns for tighter smoking regulations on campus.

With guidance from Eta Sigma Gamma and their involvement in the Tobacco Prevention Task Force, actions are being taken.

The Graduate Student Senate passed a resolution in May stating they agree separate rooms and room dividers are ineffective at reducing the levels of nicotine in air indoors and providing a 20-foot standard radius around all campus buildings for all faculty, staff and students will improve public health. The senate further calls upon the president to propose to the Board of Trustees a plan to amend the current smoking policy.

Blavos has asked the Kent City Council to consider making Kent a smokefree city, even if the state or county won’t take any smokefree initiatives.

“The smoking issue will be on the Ohio state ballot. I think city council will wait for that,” Blavos said. “I hope they won’t, but I don’t think they want to cause political stirs.”

The Columbus Dispatch reported 185,000 petition signatures had been turned in to get the issue on the November ballot.

A battle would not be a battle without opposing sides.

Smokers want to smoke. Tobacco companies need to make a profit. So do bar owners like Mike Beder, who owns Water Street Tavern downtown and Mangiamo, a new restaurant and bar in Twin Lakes.

“I don’t smoke myself,” Beder said of the health risk to himself and his employees. “Secondhand smoke is bad, but it is what I’ve chosen to do, and it’s what they’ve chosen to do.”

Similar sentiments are being expressed by a coalition of hospitality businesses and organizations called Smoke Less Ohio.

“The Smoke Less Ohio proposal bans smoking in 90 percent of businesses while allowing a limited number of businesses that rely on smoking customers the option to allow smoking,” said Jacob Evans, a spokesman for Smoke Less Ohio in a press release.

The proposal, which is also expected to be on the November ballot, seeks a constitutional amendment allowing smoking in bars and separately ventilated areas in places such as restaurants and bowling alleys and other businesses where children are not allowed, according to the Dispatch article.

Not knowing how the results of the ballots in November will fare, owners such as Beder are left to speculate outcomes.

He said a smoking ban throughout the state would be surmountable, as it is in New York and California, but a ban only in the city of Kent would be a problem, citing Toledo’s smoking ban as an example. Toledo’s 2003 ban was eventually eased to exclude places such as bars and bingo halls, as reported in the Toledo Blade last February.

Beder said cities, states and bars are not the real issue in the fight against smoking, and its effects on the publics health in the first place.

“It does not make sense to me. Out on the street you can still be exposed to cigarette smoke. It’s easier to go after a smaller target. Tobacco companies have the money to defend themselves,” he said.

Beder knows smoking is a health concern.

“The thought (of voluntarily going smokefree) has gone through my head, but I’d lose too much business. I’ve considered it,” Beder said. “If this place could be smokefree, and I wouldn’t lose any money, I’d be all for it.”

Nonetheless, Beder is working with the city to make arrangements for his patrons to have an open air patio for his bar in the alley next to Water Street Tavern shared with Ray’s Place downtown.

Contact general assignment reporter Andrew Bergman at [email protected]