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Compromise needed in smoke-free policy

A vocal public had its say last week when the Wabash City Council nixed a smoke-free workplace ordinance, which would have prohibited smoking and vaping in a multitude of public spaces and private workplaces.

There was confusion as to whether the revised ordinance, which removed mention of bars and private clubs, would still prohibit smoking in those facilities. Bars are workplaces, after all. Would a ban on smoking in all enclosed workplaces really not apply to those facilities that cater to the 21 and older crowd?

We’re sure there are many, smokers included, who would like to improve our city’s health outcomes. Creating smoke-free spaces is just one part of that process.

But the ordinance as it was presented last week was too sweeping and too ambiguous, which may have led to unequal enforcement and confusion.

A compromise may exist, particularly with regard to smoking in outdoor public areas and spaces where children may be present. The council appears willing to have this discussion, but their actions last week indicate that they’d rather not be the ones to draft such a policy. (The ordinance died when council members failed to second Councilman Bob Greene’s motion to bring the ordinance to the floor for a full-council vote.)

We think we’ll be seeing more from the Wabash County Tobacco Free Coalition in the future, albeit on a much smaller scale than the comprehensive policy presented last week.

Central to this debate is the perennial question of how involved government should be in regulating private business and unhealthy behaviors. There are other ways to discourage bad habits than through fees, tickets and fines. In fact, bars and clubs are going smoke-free on their own to meet growing demand. And most of today’s smokers are more courteous of nonsmokers than in previous generations, when the public health hazards of tobacco consumption were less well-known.

The Tobacco Free Coalition has done great work helping smokers break their habit and working with pregnant mothers to discourage tobacco use during and post-pregnancy, a serious concern for the health of newborns. That work has been lost in the current debate.

There are many ways to improve health outcomes in our city. On this we surely all agree. Let’s be more proactive in encouraging healthy habits, like keeping a healthy diet and regular exercise. And if you smoke, be courteous of those who don’t.