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Column: County smoking ban protects workers' health

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All employees deserve the opportunity to work in a smoke-free environment. It is a matter of public health.

And starting Jan. 1, that will be the case across Johnson County as smoking no longer will be allowed in bars, private clubs or other publicly accessible places.

The county commissioners have given unanimous final approval to a countywide ban that will prohibit smoking on all county-owned or leased property and in all public places and workplaces, including bars, private clubs and hotels. The ban applies to both the incorporated and unincorporated areas of the county, meaning Greenwood, Franklin and other local communities will have to follow the county ban when it is more restrictive.

Businesses that currently allow smoking have until the first of the year to put up signs and make other changes to become nonsmoking buildings.

When the ban was presented last month, commissioners Troy DeHart and Tom Kite said they thought the ban would affect only the unincorporated areas of the county, not the cities and towns. After finding out the ban would affect all areas, they said they would reconsider approving it.

However, the commissioners said they received few calls opposing the ban after giving it initial approval, and they wanted their votes to represent what the majority of the residents wanted.

“I got zero phone calls from people saying they wanted to smoke,” DeHart said.

A representative from a county social club said the organization lost 80 percent of its customers when it banned smoking earlier. However, with the approval of a countywide ordinance, the landscape has changed. Soon no one will be able to allow smoking. So the playing field is level for all such clubs.

The club representative also spoke about taking away people’s ability to choose to smoke. But that argument fails to take into account employees’ ability to work in a healthier, smoke-free environment.

Commissioner John Price said he supported the ban because secondhand smoke is a health concern for people working in bars and other places where smoking is allowed.

“We have to look at it as a long-term health issue,” he said. “The ultimate thing is: It’s someone’s life.”

Price is precisely correct. This is a health issue, not an economic one.

By prohibiting smoking in all public places and workplaces, the county’s smoking ban will be more restrictive than state law, which was changed this summer to prohibit smoking in most public places or within eight feet of public entrances.

Franklin and Greenwood already had bans that were stricter than state law, but the new county ban will put restrictions on businesses across the county, including in towns that don’t have their own smoking ban.

Greenwood’s smoking ban did not include bars. Now that issue is moot. The county ordinance trumps the local one in that regard.

We congratulate the commissioners for making all of Johnson County smoke-free. It took courage to stand up for employees who deserve to work in a safe and healthy environment.

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