It is with interest and appreciation that I have watched our community grow in their understanding of the issues involved in the controversy and discussion involving the question of ordinances at the county and at the City Council regarding if there should or should not be smoking allowed in public businesses and government facilities in the greater Terre Haute area.

Certainly the fact that many communities all over the country have banned smoking in their public areas is a fact that cannot be ignored. I wish to make yet another observation regarding this issue that has not been raised or considered in this ongoing controversy. That issue is the financial considerations that are implied by allowing smoking in public areas by governmental ordinance or even in failing to pass such a ban.

Let me explain. The statistical evidence that smoking is unhealthy and that participating in smoking causes specific health consequences both in groups that participate in that activity, and in groups who are forced to inhale tobacco smoke passively, is irrefutable.

In fact, many state and local governments have sued tobacco companies and won billions in judgments using the statistical evidence that I have previously cited in several letters to the newspaper. I just did a Google search prior to writing this letter to you using the phrase “billions in smoking judgments” and my computer pulled up 983,000 sites telling of these legal judgments. Stories about these judgments have even appeared in your newspaper from time to time.

It is not unusual to see television commercials bought by law firms with pending class action lawsuits seeking judgments against companies that have allowed people to be exposed to carcinogens that increased their statistical cancer rates. What I am alluding to is this. If the county and the city governments fail to act on this issue in a positive and conservative manner by banning smoking in public as so many other municipalities have done throughout our great nation, it will subject our local governments and eventually our children and their descendants with yet another financial obligation to pay for lawsuits.

In the future, some law firm will hire a professional statistician or a company with professional statisticians and those individuals will find higher cancer rates in the residents in the greater Terre Haute area. Furthermore, it will not matter what is or what is not causing them. They will advertise for cancer patients and cancer survivors to call them to join a class action lawsuit against our city and our county for allowing public smoking. They will show higher cancer rates in the residents of the greater Terre Haute area and compare them to the lower cancer rates in other municipalities with smoking bans that have been in place for years. The claim will be made that the city of Terre Haute and that the county are financially responsible for these cancer rates because people were exposed to secondhand tobacco smoke for years and years.

At that point it will be up to the attorneys that the city and county will have to hire to defend such litigation to prove them wrong.

Furthermore, any carcinogen loose in the greater Terre Haute environment will affect these rates, and God knows that we already have plenty. In fact, I remember bringing it to the attention of a local politician a couple of years back that there is an area in Vigo County where carcinogens are entombed in a large mound within the city limits.

The point is that the city and county will pay legal fees defending the coming lawsuit that I am predicting and that local property taxpayers will get stuck with the bill to defend this action, win or lose. If a summary judgment goes against the city and the county, local taxpayers will be paying the customary “billions” in judgments that seem to be the legal precedent that has been set in America regarding judgments in class action lawsuits brought for exposing unwary people to carcinogens.

We will have to pay those who can be shown to have suffered statistically as a group because of allowing smoking in public places.

The question is, with the national debt that we have already hung on our descendants, are we stupid enough to compound this financial burden with yet another local financial burden? Do we ignore the financial implications of poor public choices when it comes to public health issues because the local so-called “libertarians” are ignorant, have political tunnel vision and have a hallucination regarding what governments are obligated or are not obligated to do to protect the public? Do they really realize how they are squandering our future tax dollars?

Regardless of what might be responsible, if the greater Terre Haute area shows a statistically higher cancer rate in the future than do cities and municipalities that have conservatively passed smoking bans, the fact that the city and the county have failed to reasonably ban smoking in public places will get the blame and somebody will pay for this heinous mistake.

Who will that somebody be? It will be our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. They will be the ones who will pay, both in terms of poorer public health and financially through increased local taxes to pay the legal costs that will result because of the ignorance of some local legislators sitting in office today that ought to know better.

Whose rights will be violated when that happens?

— John Garner

Terre Haute