Forum attendants mostly non-smokers

Majority of speakers said they want smoking banned within 60 days.

If Muncie citizens who attended a public forum Monday night on smoking have their way, smoking in restaurants throughout the county will soon be a thing of the past.

The meeting, which was conducted by a Delaware County commissioner-assigned task force, sought public opinion through a survey on various scenarios that could have an effect on the future of smoking.

The most extreme option on the survey called for banning smoking in all restaurants within five years. The majority of those who spoke Monday night, however, said this was not good enough. Many went as far as to laugh at the proposed timeline.

Instead, they called for smoke-free restaurants within 60 days.

Many said current restrictions on smoking, such as non-smoking sections in restaurants, do not protect non-smokers.

"In my opinion, no smoking sections are like having non-peeing sections in swimming pools," one male citizen said. "Yes, the smoke is diluted, but (non-smokers are) still exposed to the toxins."

At least 25 individuals spoke at the meeting, which attracted approximately 120 people. Although there were people there who opposed a measure to prohibit smoking, no one spoke against making restaurants smoke-free.

Some incorporated humor into their opinions while others were more serious.

"If I went into any other place and dispensed carcinogens in any other way, I'd be arrested as a terrorist," one man said.

Opinions as to why smoking should be banned ranged from second-hand smoke concerns to more serious health issues such as asthma.

Ball State junior Katrina Towns, a health science major who has had asthma for 16 years, spoke in favor of the smoking ban.

"When I started reading the paper, I learned this affected me a lot more than I thought because of my asthma," she said. "I hate to be around smoke and I don't want my little niece around it."

Eight-year-old Michelle Jones, who also has asthma, talked about how smoke affects her breathing when she goes to restaurants - even when her family sits in the non-smoking section.

"My throat gets tight and I can't breathe," she said. "I don't want people to smoke in restaurants anymore."

A waitress from a local restaurant spoke about what it is to like to work in a smoking section.

"No matter where people are, they blow (smoke) in your face," she said. "It's bad for my health to have them blow it in my face every day."

Several of the speakers also shared anecdotes about family members who have died from lung cancer or emphysema.

"The end of the world for my mother was at 55 years old when she died of cancer in my arms," Pam Stant said, who is a Muncie resident. "Smoking was the primary cause."

People expressed their opinions for approximately 50 minutes, and afterward, a visual vote was conducted using the survey that was distributed.

Official counts were not taken, but the majority of those present also said they would support a ban that would make entryways smoke-free, prohibit smoking in bars which served food and prohibit smoking in all public buildings.

The results of the survey are still being compiled. Judith Roepke, retired Ball State professor and task force chairwoman, said the task force hopes to receive all of the surveys by the end of the week.

The next step will be to compile the data and study it. After that, the task force will draft an ordinance to present to the commissioners, who are responsible for making the final decision.

Two of Delaware County's three commissioners, Ron Bonham and Jack Stonebraker, were present. Bonham spoke in favor of the county-wide smoking ban, and after the meeting, he said he would vote in favor of it.

Roepke thought the forum was successful, but she thought there would be some negative reactions.

"I think it went extremely well," she said. "People were very civil and thoughtful. This was democracy at work."

Roepke hopes to have an ordinance to the commissioners in April. For an ordinance to be passed, two of the three commissioners must vote in favor of it.

No other public input forums have been scheduled.