A local grassroots organization wants to lessen people’s exposure to secondhand smoke and help people quit smoking by changing the city’s current smoking ordinance.
Smoke Free Seymour is seeking the support of the public and city officials to strengthen the city’s nearly 11-year-old smoking law by adding some new restrictions.
The group is proposing four major changes to the ordinance. Those changes and other ideas and concerns will be the subject of discussion during a public town hall meeting at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Seymour Community Center at 107 S. Chestnut St. next to the Greater Seymour Chamber of Commerce.
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Anyone wanting to ask a question or speak will be asked to fill out a card when they arrive to maintain order and keep the meeting moving along.
“Nobody gets to talk unless they’ve submitted a card,” Dr. Kenneth Bobb said.
A second meeting will be Oct. 26, and the council may vote on the proposed changes in November.
Bobb, who retired in 2015 as county health officer, is leading the smoke free coalition and wants the city to ban smoking in all bars and clubs. Currently, private clubs and bars that have separate family rooms have the option of being smoke free.
The group also wants to see the ordinance increase the distance where smoking is permitted near a public entrance from 10 feet to 25 feet; make smoking illegal at festivals such as the Seymour Oktoberfest and other public gatherings of 50 or more people; and to include all electronic forms of smoking, such as e-cigarettes and vape machines, in the ordinance.
Bobb, who is a former smoker himself, knows there will be opposition, but he also believes there is a lot of support out there for a healthier community. He said smoking is a “risky behavior” because it can kill not only the smoker but others who inhale the smoke secondhand.
“You are at risk for chronic obstructive lung disease. You’re at risk for cancer,” he said.
He has collected signatures from people who are in favor of the changes and plans to present the petition to city council as evidence to support the cause. He also has the Jackson County Health Department, Schneck Medical Center and the American Lung Association behind Smoke Free Seymour.
“I just want what is best for the community,” Bobb said. “I want Seymour to be listed as a healthy community and we’re not.”
Erin Meadors of Seymour doesn’t smoke but said the decision to ban smoking should be made by the property owners, not government.
“If the government owns the property, then they choose,” she said. “If a private individual owns the property, they choose. Public events should be decided on by the event board.”
She believes such laws can hurt local businesses.
But Bobb said that hasn’t been the case for other communities that have implemented smoke-free policies such as Bloomington.
“The other argument against this is the economic loss to those clubs and bars that allow smoking,” Bobb said. “There will be evidence presented at this meeting that refutes that. In other cities, that has not been their experience. Their business has actually improved.”
Mackenza Winteron of Seymour smokes but has no problem with the proposed changes.
“It’s about respecting others,” she said. “At a festival or entrance of a building you’re going to be around other people who may not want to be around it, but we need rules sometimes for those who don’t automatically have respect for others.”
As a smoker, Tom Gray of Seymour said he too tries to respect those who don’t smoke, but he believes a business owner should have the right to allow smoking in their establishment if they choose to do so.
Giving up the habit isn’t so easy, he added.
“I realize smoking is harmful, but those who have never smoked do not realize how hard it is to quit,” he said.
Before giving up smoking in 1976, Bobb said he was shunned by people and felt isolated because he smoked, and that helped him quit.
“But it was hard,” he said. “I promise you, if I hadn’t quit then, I wouldn’t be alive today.”
Former Seymour Councilman Bob Beatty voted against the current ordinance back in 2006.
“I say leave it be. These types of ordinances are governmental overreach,” he said. “It is still legal to smoke, so why is city government getting involved? Who enforces this? How soon before they try to ban smoking in our own homes? Where does it end?
“We are all free to choose what we do or not do and those choices have consequences,” he added. “But let me make that choice on my own, not under the threat of government sanction.”
What: Town Hall Meeting on proposed changes to Seymour’s smoking ordinance
Where: Seymour City Hall, 301-309 N. Chestnut St.
When: 7 p.m. Wednesday