Clearing the smoke

Even the most ardent supporter of the statewide smoking ban -- including those of us who voted for it -- has to admit this thing was
Sandusky Register Staff
May 24, 2010

Even the most ardent supporter of the statewide smoking ban -- including those of us who voted for it -- has to admit this thing wasn't fully thought through.

Seemed like a good idea: No smoking in public places, including workplaces. The problem seems to be in how this is being interpreted.

And plenty was left open to interpretation.

The prize for the most extreme example has to go to the case cited by The Plain Dealer in a recent story: Is the owner-operator of a commercial truck allowed to smoke in the vehicle's cab?

We're not talking about a fleet vehicle, owned by a company and operated by that company's employees. We're talking about a truck owned by one person and operated only by that person. Public workplace or private property?

Frankly, we can't imagine any law enforcement officer going out of his or her way to pull over a truck on the highway just because the driver was smoking in the cab. We're in mind of Clyde's police chief who, when confronted a few years ago with a proposed law to require trigger locks on all guns in the city, including guns kept in private homes, said he could not even begin to enforce that law without violating more constitutional protections than he cared to think about.

But the truck cab is one extreme example in a situation fraught with extreme reaction; we've lost count of the letters from aggrieved smokers pointing out this was how Hitler got started. And to the letter writer who was indignant when another letter writer took issue with her assertion smokers were "beneath" her -- really, what were you expecting?

That's all moot, though, at least until May, when the lawmakers and the attorney general's office sort out what can be enforced and what can't.

Because, you see, you can't blame the politicians for this one. This was a referendum, no doubt well-intended but placed directly on the ballot through citizen initiative. Not a thing wrong with that, but it was not afforded the lengthy and sometimes excruciating debate afforded legislation proposed by, or at least through the auspices of, elected legislators.

In no way would we propose curtailing the right of citizens to change laws through referendum. As with lawsuits and the frivolous subset thereof, the only thing worse than insufficiently considered initiative petitions is the denial of the right to use them.

But the smoking ban, idealistic though it was in its conception, will now be put through the reality test. What emerges in May or maybe June, after debate of what can and can't be enforced, will no doubt have little resemblance to what was passed in November.

That's good and bad, but the legislative process generally included opportunities for citizen input, so no one's locked out of the process.

And it does point out the dangers of rushing things into law based on emotion, not reason. That's worth remembering as we decide what to do about city hall.

Besides, it could have been worse. We could have voted to amend the state constitution, as the other smoking measure would have done. Imagine what it would take to reverse that, had that gone bad.