Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Councilmember-Elect Karen Goldner Wrong on the Smoking Ban

Rachel Blakeman posted comments from Karen Goldner on the smoking ban and the possibility of rolling back the ordinance. I applaud Karen's interaction with the blogosphere and her willingness to discuss any issue with anyone - it's one of the many reasons she beat long-time incumbent Don Schmidt in the latest election. However, in general, I disagree with her on the smoking ban and specifically I disagree with several of her recent comments (shown in bold).

I agree that "going backward" is a poor sign, and I also believe that the entire discussion has had a high opportunity cost relative to what (in my opinion) Council should be working on, which is how to improve Fort Wayne's economic condition. Therefore, I am disappointed that the previous Council passed the extended ban in the first place.

Of course one could argue that a smoke-free Fort Wayne helps the city's economic condition. Improving public health certainly has direct financial benefits to the citizenry and its government. What certainly does not help economic development is to have the city council flip-flopping on local ordinances. Businesses will be more reluctant to invest in this community if they think our legislation is unstable. And I'm not sure I want the current council attempting to improve the city's economic condition. Of course if I were a baseball team owner or a Subway or McDonalds franchisee then I might feel differently.
Of course I do not question that smoking is very bad for everyone, and I agree that the national (and international) tide is moving toward comprehensive bans. Of course, you could say similar things about the effects of cars on our communities and our health (pollution, congestion, obesity).

These are poor analogies. Cars are an integral and critical part of most people's lives - the same cannot be said about smoking. Pollution is obviously a major concern and that's why it is heavily regulated. Obesity is an individual issue - the fat man standing next to me does not affect my health one iota.
What I do question is why Fort Wayne City Council needed to make the statement that it did, creating a very unlevel playing field, with (in my opinion) disregard for the impact on local businesses and their clientele. I support a broader ban that is statewide, because that would be both fairer to all businesses and also more effective.

First, the city did what was necessary to improve public health after the county commissioners failed to pass a comprehensive ordinance. The lack of such comprehensive ordinance in the county should be blamed for the unlevel playing field. Second, there is absolutely no publicly available evidence to support the idea that the smoking ban has harmed local business. While Goldner does not say this directly, it is often the core argument for rolling back the ban. This is something that is measurable if only the county would break out the food and beverage tax receipts for municipal businesses.

I am disappointed that Goldner takes a stance that is contrary to public health and the wishes of the citizenry. Her decision to roll back the ban would only erode whatever confidence the public might have left in the Fort Wayne city council

15 comments:

Kevin said...

Jeff,

Here is the major flaw in your argument:

"...a stance that is contrary to public health and the wishes of the citizenry."

I know of at least ONE poll taken this summer that says 51% of residents support the ban, 49% oppose. That is WELL within the margin of error and creates a problem. Clearly you are seeing a mix here of smokers and those that feel it is government going to far.

My second point is that, while I personally am NOT a smoker, and am not bothered by cigarette smoke, I am concerned about the "uneven" playing field that the County Commissioners allowed to happen.

Finally, I met a gentleman a few weeks back who is REALLY opposed to smoking. We had a good discussion about the issue. I pointed out that several small bars were hurt by the ban. His response left me nearly speechless- "I do not patronize ANY place that used to allow smoking either. They need to clean the places first or I simply won't go there".

Kinda destroys the theory that if you don't allow smoking that you will get more business.

Personally, rather than rolling back the ordinance, I would prefer seeing the COUNTY step up to the plate and make their rules the same as the city.

Jeff Pruitt said...

Kevin,

There was other polling data taken by Councilman Crawford that showed the public more in favor of the ban than the 51-49 you describe.

I can't speak for everyone but I frequent bars MUCH more often than I did before and I don't believe the mentality of the man you describe is widespread.

We are definitely in agreement that the county should pass a comprohensive ban equal to the city's.

I am nearly certain that when/if the data is aggragated it will show that the smoking ban has had a net positive effect on Fort Wayne establishments. My hunch is smoking advocates want to roll back this ordinance before that data is collected because they too think the data won't go their way...

Kevin said...

Jeff,

I think that you will see that bars have taken in more money- but less profit.

Selling food is much less profitable than selling alcohol.

There have been some establishments that have blamed the smoking ban for their closing. I do not agree that this was necessarily the case. However, there is no doubt it is hurting them.

If it was county wide, there would then be an "even" playing field, and I think it would help the bars that are struggling.

Heck, as far as I am concerned, outlaw tobacco altogether!

Phil Marx said...

Jeff,

I don't thik I'll ever be able to fully understand your views on the smoking ban. Like you, I am a no-smoker, and I think it is an unhealthy and disgusting habit.

Nevertheless, I don't feel I have the right to impose my will on others. If I don't like the atmosphere of a bar I believe I should just leave, rather than demanding everyone else change their habits to accomodate me.

I don't see this as a health issue or an economic development issue. In my opiion, the personal rights issue here trumps all that. I see the smoking ban as nothing more than codified bullying.

Bartleby said...

"Obesity is an individual issue - the fat man standing next to me does not affect my health one iota."

Really?

That would be true only if you and he aren't consuming health care out of the same collective bucket. That isn't the case today, hasn't been the case for many years, and will be even less the case in the future.

Of course, I'd say that argues for less health care collectivism, not for public control of every individual's health-related practices. I'm guessing, though, that you wouldn't.

Dave MacDonald said...

My problem with the smoking ban is it provides further evidence that Fort Wayne is hostile to local business.

1.) City Council forces restaurants to invest their own capital to create separate smoking sections, only to implement a full-ban a few years later.

2.) Non-sensical health department regulations re: outdoor grilling directly or indirectly lead to the death of a beloved businessman (Arkansas BBQ).

The City of Fort Wayne has little respect for small businessowners. Should be no surprise that businesses aren't bending over backwards to relocate here.

It's time for City Council to focus on actions that will directly help the Fort Wayne small business owner. Make it easier for entrepreneurs to start, purchase or move a business here.

I applaud Ms. Goldner's position.

Phil Marx said...

Dave,

Point #1 was proven whn the city allowed smoking at the three rivers festival. The only reason for that was because of the size of that operation. Big matters, small doesn't. At least to our city leaders.

We could have taken the nearly $1 mil. in abatements that we gave to fast food restaraunts and instead used it to reimburse the businesses for their smoking containment systems.

If there was anything left over, we could have given it to a restaraunt like Munchies Emporium to relocate near the stadium. There are plenty of small business that are run locally and have some element of class to them. Instead we chose to donate our money to Ronald McDonald and Jared.

Dave MacDonald said...

Excellent points, Phil.

I'm not a big fan of abatements anyway, but if used appropriately (bringing new quality jobs or expanding operations in an underserved market) I could see merit.

Parson said...

I wouldn't be surprised if we see a state wide ban in a year or two. So they might as well leave the smoking ban in place. I think people are getting used to it by now.

Andrew Kaduk said...

"There are plenty of small business that are run locally and have some element of class to them. Instead we chose to donate our money to Ronald McDonald and Jared."

Bravo, Phil.

Phil Marx said...

Parson,

I tend to agree with you there. Also, I have previously mentioned that I am a non-smoker that does not like being around cigarette smoke. In fact, just the smoking ban alone probably would not have been enough to have gotten me politically motivated this year.

But the Council's apparent lack of deliberation on this matter is what first got my attention. This attention then began to focus on Harrison Square. Then, once I started attending City Council meetings regularly I began to perceive of some fundamental problems there.

I see the smoking ban and Harrison Square as both being examples of a similar problem. City leaders who want to push things through without fully informming or gaining the support of the people who voted them into office.

Dave MacDonald said...

I'm a non-smoker as well.

Forcing businesses to create separate smoking facilities was just the first step. Next we had the total ban in any public facility (including private clubs and bars where only the 21+ crowd can enter). At the same time, Parkview banned smoking on their premises (which is their right, I have no problem with that). However, now we have the unintended consequences. Parkview patients, staff, and visitors cross the street to smoke on St. Jude Church's property. This forced the church to post "no smoking" signs near the parking lot used by the school kids as a playground. When the church should be ministering to those in need (smoking mother grieving a dying child), it tells them "you're not welcome here."

What's next? No smoking in a car going through McDonald's drive-thru? No smoking on public sidewalks because a passerby will be exposed? No smoking in a home or apartment building where children are present?

If City Council can implement a ban in private clubs, there's no stopping them from banning smoking in a city apartment or private residence.

Phil Marx said...

Dave,

Robert Fuller, who ran for city council as a Libertarian, claims that he received a citation for smoking while standing next to a bus hut. He was charged with being too close to the entrance to a building I believe.

Dave MacDonald said...

Phil,

FortWayneNews has a post about smoking near bus huts here:

"bus hut and sidewalks...are public property and subject to the ordinance."

Dave MacDonald said...

I should clarify my last post. I believe this refers to bus huts and sidewalks within 200' of a non-smoking health care facility's property line. Thus it applies to those on the church's side of the street directly across from Parkview, not every bus hut and sidewalk.