Public health versus personal choice.
That was the sharply drawn line Thursday night as the McCreary County Fiscal Court as a public hearing was held to allow citizen comments regarding the possible passage of a non-smoking ordinance.
Ultimately the Court took no action on the bill, letting the issue die without a motion. But, there always remains the possibility a similar ordinance could come before the magistrates again in the future.
With less than 20 citizens in attendance, there were plenty of opinions offered on both sides of the issue.
Those who were against the proposed ban included:
Albert Coffey, who described himself as a smoker of 55-years. Coffey said he and his wife would not stop in Georgetown anymore since that city passed similar legislation, and asked how the Fiscal Court thought they had the right to decide what citizens can and can not do.
Other voices against the proposed bill included Elizabeth Coffey who stated people have to stand up for their own rights, and said something of this magnitude should be up for a public vote.
Chad Kidd spoke out against the seemingly increasing government intrusion into everyday lives.
“If caffeine is a drug, will we have to cut out pop and coffee?” he asked.
“I think it’s a waste of the Court’s time,” he continued. “It should be up to the business owner.”
Business owner Rick Wilson also called for restraint, claiming it should be his decision to allow smoking in his establishment or not.
“It is a freedom of choice,” he said. “It’s my choice.”
“Our rights are being taken away more and more every day. It is my office, it is my place, God has allowed me to operate a business.”
“I think it’s not right to impose on these businesses.”
Citizen Larry Taylor stated he believed such a ban would affect small businesses in a negative way.
“I have seen what bans of this type have done to small businesses,” he said. “I believe it will cut the throat of small business in the county.”
Jennifer Kidd, herself a non-smoker, said it was her choice to go into an establishment that allowed smoking.
“I don’ want somebody telling me I can’t light up a cigarette,” she said. “I don’t want someone telling me I can not do something.”
“Before you can let five people make a decision that affects 20,000 people, why don’t we put it on the ballot,” Adam Hill stated. “I believe everyone should have a say so.”
Proponents of the law included representatives from the Champions/UNITE group who introduced the bill to the Fiscal Court and members of the Lake Cumberland Area Health District.
Co-Chair of the Champions Group, Roger Owens, spoke about the hazards of cigarette smoke and the impact it has on a community.
“Tobacco products are the most addicting and hardest to quit,” he said. “Second hand smoke kills over 3,000 people a year.”
“You (the magistrates) are elected to oversee the county, and it is also your responsibility to see to the safety of the community.”
Tracey Aaron, from the health department, stated approximately 40 percent of McCreary Countians are smokers, and such a ban would protect the public.
She agreed it was a difficult choice for the court to make, but compared it to public water and septic issues the Court has taken action on in the past.
“Sometimes you need to have the Fiscal Court making decisions that is going to help the community,” she said.
Another health department representative, Patricia Burton stated a ban was necessary, since even restaurants with non-smoking sections can contribute to second hand smoke issues for people sitting away from smokers.
Though Judge Executive Doug Stephens stated at the outset that the Fiscal Court held the meeting to hear input from citizens, and not to debate the issue, Magistrate Roger Phillips offered some brief statements regarding his position.
“I think we agree with you,” Phillips said in response to Aaron’s comments about the harm smoking does. ”But it is not our place to tell a local business what to do. Where do you draw the line?”
Later in the meeting Phillips referenced a letter the Fiscal Court received from the county’s insurance provider, advising the court if legal action were to be brought against the county on such a matter, they may not represent the county in court.
“Would you advise us to pass this?” he asked. “If we got sued it will cost the taxpayers money. We are stewards of taxpayers money.”
Later that evening, during the regular monthly meeting of the Fiscal Court, Judge Stephens called for a motion to approve the second reading of the proposed ordinance, which would enact it in to law.
After no motion was forthcoming, Judge Stephens declared the issue dead due to lack of action.