Columbia took another step toward making all public places smoke-free Tuesday night.
After a presentation by the Boone County Coalition for Tobacco Concerns, the Boone County/Columbia Board of Health voted unanimously to ask the Columbia City Council for approval to look into this issue further.
Health Department Director Stephanie Browning said she had never seen a health board meeting quite like Tuesday’s. Board member Lane Jacobs said she was “stunned” by the size of the audience. The meeting was attended by six to eight coalition supporters and members as well as several reporters.
Dean Andersen and Kim Waters, co-chairs of the coalition, made the presentation, which was largely a question and answer session between them and board members.
Board chairman Michael Szewczyk, was direct with his first question to the coalition, asking how it knows an ordinance won’t harm businesses. Andersen responded by pointing out studies of cities that have gone smoke free that show business was either not harmed or even improved in some cases. He said that after speaking with many businesses, the biggest concern is an ordinance with loopholes.
“They’re kind of afraid of an ordinance that would be incremental,” Andersen said, meaning it would only eliminate smoking in some places, but not others.
Several members asked the coalition to comment on an argument they had been hearing often, that smoking is a right.
“No right is absolute,” Andersen said. “Smoking might be a right, but it is not an absolute right.”
He made a comparison with drinking alcohol. Although it may be legal to drink, it is illegal to drink and drive. He said although it is legal to smoke, it should be illegal to subject others to the health risks of secondhand smoke.
When Andersen labeled secondhand smoke as a health concern equal to lead or asbestos, Szewcysk was quick to point out the difference was that cigarettes are a legal product.
“We don’t sell asbestos down at Home Depot,” Szewczyk said.
It’s now up to the City Council whether the Board of Health will investigate this issue. If given approval, Szewcyzk said the board would form a subcommittee, get the community involved and examine what would be best for the city.
Board member Thomas Rose assured the coalition that this would happen quickly.