Tobacco prevention coalition hosts smoke-free forum

Erin Hopkins

The Portage County Tobacco Prevention Coalition continued its campaign last night for a smoke-free Kent by hosting a public forum that included guest speakers.

About 30 people attended the forum at Theodore Roosevelt High School.

James Price, professor and director of the Division of Public Health in the Department of Public Health at The University of Toledo, gave a PowerPoint presentation about the financial stress of environmental tobacco smoke, or secondhand smoke.

“One of the problems is the pervasiveness of exposure to secondhand smoke,” Price said.

He said an average of 1,200 people die each day as a direct consequence of tobacco use, and 150 of those deaths are nonsmokers exposed to secondhand smoke.

Price said many bar and restaurant owners fear a negative economic impact by going smoke-free, but that fear has not been confirmed.

“There are 100 studies about this,” he said. “Of the 100, only one found a negative economic impact after the passage of a clean-air ordinance. It was funded by a tobacco company.”

This received a chuckle from the crowd.

Price said total health care expenses in Ohio for tobacco-induced health problems such as cancer, heart disease or asthma total about $2.5 billion per year.

He said hospitals pass on the treatment costs of tobacco-related illnesses to all of society.

“This raises fees for everyone else,” Price said.

State Representative Kathleen Chandler (D-Kent) echoed Price’s concerns.

“There’s a real cost to society when we choose to ignore the dangers of secondhand smoke,” she said.

Chandler discussed two possibilities for a statewide clean indoor air act that likely will be considered in November.

The first is a ballot initiative led by SmokeFreeOhio, the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association and other health industry leaders.

“If passed, smoking will be prohibited in enclosed public places and workplaces,” Chandler said. “But the issue would permit smoking in not-for-profit clubs, retail tobacco stores, 20 percent of hotel rooms and family-owned businesses where the employees are all related to the owner.”

The second possibility is a bill proposed by lawmakers that would allow smoking at bars, race tracks and bingo halls.

Brad Slease, senior community health education major and former smoker, asked why 20 percent of hotel rooms would allow smoking.

“Why not go all the way?” he asked. “It has to be all indoors or nothing if you ask me.”

Chandler said she assumed that provision was added so it would be easier to pass the bill.

John Ferlito, Kent health department commissioner, said the move toward a clean-air act is not meant to infringe on smokers’ rights. It is meant to protect the rights of everyone else.

“I’m not telling you (that) you can’t smoke,” he said. “You just can’t kill nonsmokers by doing it.”

Another public forum will be held at 11 a.m. April 17 at Kent State. The room has yet to be determined.

Contact public affairs reporter Erin Hopkins at [email protected].