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Smoked out

FWR talks to city council member Dr. John Crawford about why the time is ripe for a more restrictive smoking ordinance in Fort Wayne

By Michael Summers

michael_summers@fortwaynereader.com

Fort Wayne Reader

2007-01-10


When Fort Wayne passed its first smoking ordinance back in 1998 — the ordinance that launched a zillion (I’m exaggerating) closed off, designated smoking sections in restaurants all across town — the issue of secondhand smoke wasn’t the bugbear it is today. No one doubted that inhaling massive amounts of secondhand cigarette smoke full of nicotine was bad for you, but it was thought that for non-smokers, limited exposure to secondhand smoke meant the risk of developing a smoking related disease was minimal.

That all changed on June 27th, 2006, when the Surgeon General issued its most definitive study on the dangers of secondhand smoke. To sum up, the Surgeon General report stated there was no risk-free level of exposure to secondhand smoke. According to the report, just 30 minutes of exposure has immediate effects on the cardiovascular system, and non-smokers exposed to secondhand smoke increase their risk of heart disease by 25-30% and lung cancer by 20-30%.

Once again, this wasn’t exactly news. Long before the study came out, 11 states and many major metropolitan areas already had sweeping smoking bans in place, and it seemed the areas that didn’t have the ban, like Chicago and Indianapolis, were arguing about it anyway. If the Surgeon General’s study marks anything, it might mark the end of the debate on the issue.

Fort Wayne city council member Dr. John Crawford (R-at large) believes that the findings in the Surgeon General’s report from last June are enough to take Fort Wayne’s current smoking ordinance to the next level. At a press conference December 11, Crawford introduced plans to introduce a bill that would prohibit smoking in virtually all public places — bars, restaurants, clubs, workplaces, and the majority of hotel and motel rooms.

Press materials released at the conference put this latest effort at a smoking band in the context of a larger international movement. It reads: “Entire countries such as Ireland, Uruguay, and even France ban public smoking in most public places.” (For the record, the World Health Organization puts the percentage of adult smokers in France about the same as adult smokers in the US, but never mind).

Of course, the same facts and data didn’t seem to help the Allen County council when it recently tried to get its own smoking ordinance passed, or rather, when it tried to get its smoking ordinance to stay passed. But Dr. Crawford is pretty sure city council has a good chance of passing the ordinance. “I have to get five votes,” he said at the conference. “I think I have a good chance at five. One of the reasons we’re bringing this forward now is in 2007, my read of the council is that we have a pretty good chance to get five votes, and I know that the mayor supports it. In 2008 we’ll have a new council and a new mayor, so this is the time to do it or not.”

A public hearing is planned for Tuesday, January 9, and it’s expected that the biggest objections will come from restaurant and bars owners, just like it did 10 years ago and just like it did in the recent county council ordinance. At the press conference, Crawford was asked if there were going to be any reimbursements for restaurant owners who had spent money creating separate smoking sections in order to comply with the 1998 ordinance. His response was a flat “no.” “When we passed our original ordinance, we never said you had to do it,” Dr. Crawford said. “You had a choice. You could either go with no smoking, — which several restaurants did and didn’t find any adverse effect on their business — or they could do a non-smoking room if they wanted to.”

“There are many issues on this that reasonable people can disagree on,” Crawford added. “’Why should we be able to tell a business what to do?’ But the health issues override the others in my mind, and I’m hoping they will also in at least five more council members.”

Mayor Richard added that as someone who comes from a business background, cost of compliance is an issue he understands, but… “part of how we live in a society where we have laws is that there will be a cost of compliance. …I believe it’s offset by the cost savings some businesses may very well find in the reduction of the costs of health care.”

We had a chance to talk to Dr. Crawford about the proposed ordinance and why he thinks it’s important for Fort Wayne.

Fort Wayne Reader: In the press conference on December 11 and the materials you’ve released about the proposed smoking ban, the two main reasons for the ban seem to be health and economics. Which is the #1 reason for you?

Dr. Crawford: Health, of course. My governing philosophy is that governments should be involved if the actions of one person hurt another person, either their physical body or their property, and since second-hand smoke hurts another person, then I think that should be regulated. Same thing as if you drink. I don’t care if you drink yourself to death at home, but as soon as you get behind the wheel and hurt somebody else then there has to be laws against that. Since we didn’t know how dangerous second-hand smoke was 10 years ago and we just have this new surgeon general’s report showing that even brief exposures to second-hand smoke can cause damage, and that the death rate among workers in the hospitality industry is much higher, then we need to have stronger regulations. 11 states — well, more like 15 now — have gone smoke-free so it’s not like a new idea here.

FWR: Do you think the entire U.S. will go smoke free?

Dr. Crawford: My basic prediction is that the entire United States will go to this in a relatively short period of time. If you look how the pace is quickening and more states are adding it, more localities and stricter laws, everything is headed that way. So I think the entire United States will do no second-hand smoke in all public places in a relatively short period of time.

FWR: What do you anticipate being the biggest objection to a smoking ban in Fort Wayne?

Dr. Crawford: Basically, a lot of people just say a business should be able to make that decision on their own, and therefore they shouldn’t have the government tell them where they should allow smoking, especially in a bar where there’s only people over 21 because if you don’t want to go you don’t have to go, and workers that don’t want to work there don’t have to work there. But some of those objections are not really true, because sometimes a person has to take a job where they can get a job, and if they are forced to work in smoking, and maybe have other health problems, or even don’t, that’s a workplace issue to me. The health issues and the workplace issues override all the other concerns. But we’ll hear all the same things we heard 10 years ago: “If we do this, all the restaurants will go out of business. If we do this, nobody will come to Fort Wayne, and dah-dah-dah.” But remember, all those other states that have done this have looked at all this, and that doesn’t happen. We actually looked at Fort Wayne. There was a really nice study done that looked at the sales tax receipts from the restaurants before and a year after the ordinance, and there was absolutely no effect.

FWR: There wasn’t much of a change at all?
Dr. Crawford: No. The reason there wasn’t a change is, remember, 3/4 of the people don’t smoke and 1/4 do, so the 1/4 that smokes, they go out a little bit less, and the 3/4 that don’t smoke, they go out a little more. For example, I don’t go to a bowling alley now because I can’t stand the smoke, but I’ll go when it’s smoke-free. Same thing with bars.

FWR: You said in the press conference that this kind of ordinance or bill doesn’t necessarily require a public hearing. Why are you having one?
Dr. Crawford: We call it a courtesy public hearing, because many people will be mad about this, and many people will think it is a bad idea, like private clubs and bars. They’ll be regulated where they weren’t before, and they’ll feel like they didn’t even have a chance to voice their objections, so we do it as a courtesy. It’s part of going through the legislative process.

FWR: You said you believed you had the five votes needed. Do you anticipate any of those five being swayed by any of these arguments you mentioned?
Dr. Crawford: I always have to say ‘unknown.’ Remember, the county commissioners passed something, and after the public hearing they went back and unpassed parts of it. When the fire came, they backed off some. So I don’t know what the entire council will do. I have several people who are fully for it, just the way it is, and they’re not going to change. But I don’t have five yet. I have at least five or six leaning that way, and I think I’m okay. But in this business, you learn not to make too many ironclad predictions (laughs) especially in an election year, because it’s going to be an election year. But people shouldn’t fear that, because I actually did a poll years ago when we were first passing this. I asked people “if your council person voted for this ordinance, would you be more or less likely to vote for them in the next election?” And 38% said they would more likely, 30% less likely, and another 30% didn’t care. You shouldn’t fear it in an election year but many people do, because the people that show up at the public hearings, those are the ones that are mad and are against you. But that’s just the way it works at public hearings. The ones that are mad, they’ll show up, but the one’s that are all for it… well, they’re fine with it. They don’t come. You have to get used to the fact that 80% of the people that come to a public hearing are going to be mad at you.

FWR: During the press conference, you and the mayor said that you thought this smoking ban would lower health care costs and attract more businesses to the area
Dr. Crawford: One of our problems in Indiana, we have the second highest instance of smoking in the United States. 27% of the adult population smokes. If you look at the health care costs for a big employer, it’s about $1,000 more per employee in Indiana than it is in the U.S. average, because of that higher smoking instance, higher obesity instance, higher… bad health habits. So, you know… that’s not good. If you can take your company anywhere you want and you look at all those things, that’s a net negative. Also, just the fact that it’s money out of your pocket. So, if we could get people to go down even a small number in the active smokers — and these ordinances all seem to do that. In Ireland 15% of smokers stopped after the nationwide ban. If it’s even 5%, that’s a huge health care benefit.

FWR: In talking to businesses that were actually thinking of locating in the area, has this been something that has been cited by them?
Dr. Crawford: I’ve heard that when they’re trying to attract people from out of state, they look at all those things. Workforce readiness is the biggest thing, but they also look at health care costs. One good thing that helps us a little bit is we have a little bit lower cost as far as hospitals as opposed to other states, but it’s offset by the fact people are going in.

FWR: Is part of this an image issue for Fort Wayne?
Dr. Crawford: Yeah, it is, because a big thing in the mind of young professionals — the ones that everyone is after, the college graduates, the ones with the advanced degrees, the computer software engineers and the people like that — as you go up the education attainment level, the percentage of smokers go down, and the percentage of people that say they prefer these type of laws go up. You become more attractive. And it does say something: you are a progressive city if you’re looking at this. So I think it would help us fight some of this brain drain stuff, and that’s been one of my issues on council to work on that.

FWR: Has this been a goal for you ever since you came on city council?
Dr. Crawford: It is something… when I first came on council, I didn’t come on council thinking I was going to get in to (this issue), but once I got in to it, I realized it was the right thing to do and we passed a really good law for the time. When we first started working on it ten years ago it was much more controversial than now. It’s certainly been a nice plus for Fort Wayne, but I think it’s time to advance it to the final stage.

The public hearing on the proposed public smoking ordinance takes place on Tuesday, January 9, room 128 in the City County Building at 5:30 pm.

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