An effort to make Kent "smoke-free," although well-intentioned from a health standpoint, raises questions about enforcement as well as a "nanny state" intrusion on personal lifestyle choices.
The Kent Health Department is utilizing a three-year grant from the Ohio Department of Health to work toward making multi-family housing throughout the city smoke-free. The city will be working in conjunction with the Portage Metropolitan Housing Authority, which is attempting to implement a federal mandate prohibiting the use of tobacco products in residential units, common areas and within 20 feet of public housing.
While landlords can stipulate that tenants abide by non-smoking regulations, how are those rules to be enforced? Would violators be liable to criminal penalties or eviction? An argument can be made that nicotine is an addictive substance. Rendering a smoker homeless because of an addiction seems like an extreme penalty.
The city of Kent is exploring smoke-free options that include banning tobacco from parks and other public places as well as community gatherings. Again, the question of enforcement arises. "Peer-to-peer policing" has been suggested, but are criminal penalties an option as well? Heath Commissioner Jeff Neistadt, who discussed the smoke-free initiative at a recent Kent City Council meeting, mentioned other locations that maintain "a ticketing policy where police can ticket someone smoking up to a couple hundred dollars."
We can't imagine Kent adopting such an extreme measure. After years of stagnation, the city's downtown area is now a magnet for residents as well as out-of-town visitors. A ban on smoking there (or at public gatherings such as the many festivals that occur there) could be a deterrent for many, especially if lighting up a cigarette on a sidewalk on Main Street or at a festival meant risking a heavy fine.
We understand the health risks of smoking and agree that the use of tobacco products ought to be discouraged. There is no question that people are better off if they don't smoke, and secondhand smoke also poses health risks.
The fact remains, however, that tobacco products are not illegal for adults -- and we do agree with raising the age for purchasing them in Kent to age 21, as suggested -- and smokers are not breaking the law if they choose to use them. While that choice poses health risks, the same argument could be made for those who choose a diet of junk food. Would that be the next target?
We question turning smokers into criminals because they choose to light up in the privacy of their homes or outdoors. We hope that any decision on a tobacco-free mandate in Kent will be discussed in detail, with an opportunity for public input.
I'm a non-smoker who is NOT in favor of this smoking ban.
Give the smokers a place where they can smoke, outside or in their own homes where there are no children.
This proposal is a Big Brother intrusion into personal freedom.
I am a non-smoker, but I find this idea to be an unconscionable intrusion on personal freedom.