Solid public service improves the quality of life. In the wake of this month’s election, we remember the effort, careful consideration and fortitude involved in a landmark piece of local public policy.
In June, the Vigo County commissioners voted unanimously for a comprehensive clean indoor-air ordinance. That decision by commissioners Paul Mason, Judy Anderson and Mike Ciolli created one of the most thoroughly discussed policies ever enacted in this community. The idea of making all indoor workplaces smokefree first came up in January 2003 at a Vigo County Board of Health meeting. After three years of public meetings and debate, the commissioners approved the clean-air ordinance in 2006.
Rather than taking effect immediately, the law became official a year later, on July 1, 2007. It also allowed restaurants to create separate smoking rooms, if desired, and gave bars and taverns a five-year exemption in preparation for going smokefree on July 1, 2012. In the meantime, the Terre Haute City Council passed a comprehensive clean-air law last year, also to take effect on July 1, 2012. The commissioners’ vote in June made the city and county policies match.
A process involving more than nine years of public deliberation had reached fruition.
One of the three commissioners who cast those votes in June, Mason, will leave office at the end of the year, having lost a close election to Republican challenger Brad Anderson. Mason served as a good listener throughout the long, nine-year journey of the clean indoor-air ordinance from an idea to a full-scale reality. He raised questions about several concerns, representing both sides of the issue along the way. His cautious approach — along with those of other commissioners — resulted in its slow, gradual
The objections to the ordinance, faced by the commissioners, included those from some members of private clubs and veterans posts, who argued those entities should be able to allow smoking if that was their choice. The commissioners, though, had to also consider the interests of all involved, including the quieter voices of veterans with health problems that prevent them from visiting a smoke-filled atmosphere. The vote was not easy for Mason, a Vietnam veteran who said he sympathized with the opponents’ arguments.
“It’s a little hard, as far as being a veteran and some of the veterans out there talking about what their concerns were,” Mason said on the day of the vote. “But, I think that when we raised our hands to be selected to go in the service, we raised our hands for all of the people. So I think we did the right choice.”
As his 14 years of service as a commissioner come to a close, Mason deserves praise for the courage shown through his votes for clean-air policies. The health of employees and patrons at local workplaces will improve through reduced exposure to harmful secondhand smoke. Lives will remain productive, and many will be spared from early death.
Two medical studies released last month — one by Mayo Clinic, and another by the University of California — concluded that clean indoor-air laws in the U.S. have resulted in fewer tobacco-related hospital visits and deaths, especially through lower heart-attack rates. Vigo County ranks near the bottom third in the state in premature deaths (before age 75), according to a national county health index compiled annually the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute. Inside those statistics are thousands of real local people with real families, enduring real suffering and heartache, year after year.
Future generations will thank Mason and his fellow commissioners for making the right choice.