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Smoking ordinance will protect worker health

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On Monday, the Johnson County Board of Commissioners will discuss potential easing of their recent action restricting smoking in public places throughout the county.

Several local bar and club owners want the commissioners to reconsider the ban that will prohibit smoking in their businesses. They say the ban will stop customers from going to bars and clubs, and they will lose business. They want to see it changed so that businesses that allow smoking now can continue to do so.

If the commissioners decide to make any change, they would have to vote to amend the ban.

The countywide ban the commissioners approved will prohibit smoking starting Jan. 1 in all public places and workplaces, including bars, private clubs and hotels, and on all county-owned or leased property. The ban includes both the incorporated and unincorporated areas of the county, meaning Greenwood, Edinburgh and other local communities will have to follow the ban. Franklin businesses will not have to make any changes because the city already has a smoking ban for all public places.

Bars and other businesses that currently allow smoking will have to put up signs and make other changes to become nonsmoking buildings by the first of the year.

Local bar and private club owners said they did not get any information on the proposal before it was approved and want the commissioners to amend the ban. Owners and representatives from at least six bars and private clubs attended the commissioner’s most recent meeting to ask how they could change the ban.

One suggestion was to add a grandfather clause that would let bars that currently allow smoking to continue doing so after the ban went into effect. If a new bar were opened or a bar were sold, it would have to follow the smoking ban.

Another suggestion was to allow businesses to have ventilation rooms that are separated from the rest of the business.

But all of these ideas ignore one elemental aspect. Smoking in the workplace is a health issue, and the commissioners should treat it as such. When employees work surrounded by secondhand smoke, it can have a deleterious effect on their health.

Critics have argued that those employees are free to seek other jobs that would be in the smoke-free environment. But in today’s economy, that’s not such an easy task. Besides, they might like their jobs otherwise and be unwilling to leave.

The so-called grandfather clause poses its own problems. Permitting some establishments to allow smoking while barring it in comparable businesses might give them an unfair competitive edge.

But such a move still fails to address the fundamental health issue.

The commissioners passed a comprehensive ordinance that treated all businesses equally. By its very scope, it was the most equitable approach. The commissioners should stand firm and not change the ordinance.

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