Reading at the Crossroads

Reading at the Crossroads is an archive for columns and letters which appeared in the Terre Haute Tribune Star. I also blog here when my patience is exhausted by what I feel is irritating, irrational and/or ironic in life. --gary daily

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Location: Terre Haute, Indiana, United States

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Monday, June 26, 2006

CROSSROADS COMMENT -- Vigo County Waves Goodbye

[Published in the Terre Haute Tribune-Star, June 26, 2006]

Flashpoint: Health Department chief, county commissioners failed Vigo residents

There’s a cynical old line about “doing the right thing.” It goes: I love doing the right thing. I wave to it every time it goes by. The Vigo County Commissioners did a lot of waving Tuesday morning at the County Commissioner’s meeting. The meeting was an unmitigated health defeat for the people of Vigo County and a big victory for the tavern lobby.

Dr. Garcia’s letter, “Clean Air Ordinance — a challenge of changing times” has it right. A clean air ordinance for Vigo County is necessary for these changing times.
Unfortunately, neither he nor the commissioners, Anderson, Mason and Bryan, seem ready to take on this challenge.

So when Dr. Garcia, writing as the commissioner of the Vigo County Health Department, and remember, he is the person in charge of securing the fullest, most effective health standards possible for the people he serves, what is to be made of the position he takes when he states:
“The belated appeal of the local Tobacco Cessation coalition to adopt a more stringent ordinance, although ideal, is not practical at this time. It will only tend to disrupt the progress of what we have endeavored to achieve for the past three years.”

I am not a member of the local Tobacco Cessation Coalition. But why did the chief health officer of the county, a man fully apprised and knowledgeable (as indicated by the facts he lays out in his own letter) on the health hazards of secondhand smoke, accept what he erroneously calls a “compromise” ordinance? Why didn’t he fight for an ordinance he calls “ideal”? Why would he call any of this “progress”?

Whose health is being “compromised” within the guidelines of the ordinance just passed? Why would he or any doctor accept the compromising of any portion of the public’s health?

This is not a case of battlefield triage. This is supposed to be thought-out legislation.

Time for study was given to this ordinance, the facts were in, the course was clear based on medical scientific findings. It was past the time for polls. And the commissioners should not have turned this health issue over to politics, over to the lobbying clout of the Tavern Owner’s Association.

If the recent poll on the smoking ban had shown that a vast majority was in favor of allowing smoking to continue unabated in public places (And it did not. It showed just the opposite.), Dr. Garcia and the commissioners would still have been required by their positions and their scientific expertise to stand up and support a total ban.

A total smoking ban in workplaces, restaurants and bars is not an issue subject to “compromise” based on polls, influenced by personal contacts, or rigged by a political pressure group. Purely and simply, a fair and effective clean air ordinance is a health issue based on the findings of medical science. Enrico I. Garcia, M.D., Commissioner, Vigo County Health Department, should have been the first and the last to stand up for an ordinance that fully achieves this goal. Commissioners Anderson, Mason and Bryan should have been ready to lead and educate the public on the benefits that would be derived from a full ban on smoking in work places and public venues.

This didn’t happen on Tuesday and so Vigo County is left behind on still another front — and this is a front that touches every breathing citizen in the Wabash Valley. Get ready to keep coughing. And get ready to vote.

— Gary W. Daily
Vigo County, Terre Haute, Indiana
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Since this was published many people, including some of those in favor of a full smoking ban, have spoken to me about "playing the political game," compromise and the wisdom of half-a-loaf necessities. This is exasperating and patronizing. I'll write a fuller response soon. In the meantime, I offer the following for those who think political realism and effective tactics is always about compromise.

"What do we want? When do we want it?"

I hasten to add that local smoking bans are not the moral equivalent of the civil rights issues of the sixties, only that another of the great legacies of King and that movement is about the power, theoretically and practically, of pursuing the ideal.


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