Despite efforts from other government entities to enact smoking bans, Franklin County commissioners are not looking at such a law now.
“I have not been approached on a countywide proposal whatsoever,” First District County Commissioner Tim Brinker said. “I’m a firm believer in not making laws that people are not clamoring to have made.”
Second District Commissioner Mike Schatz said he also opposes a countywide smoking ban because he does not want to hurt businesses.
“I think personal freedoms come into play,” Schatz said, adding that it should be left up to the individual business owners whether to allow smoking.
The Washington City Council recently approved a smoking ban for public places. St. Charles County has also looked into enacting a smoking ban.
Presiding County Commissioner John Griesheimer said he does not think the county even has the authority to enact a smoking ban.
Charter counties and municipalities can enact such bans, Griesheimer said. But he thinks Franklin County would need to obtain authority from the Legislature.
Even if the county did have the authority, Griesheimer said he would still be opposed to a ban.
Government’s job is to provide basic services not to protect people from “womb to tomb,” he added. That is the problem with the federal government, Griesheimer said, adding that it sticks its nose into people’s lives.
In his 17 years as a Washington city councilman and one year on the county commission, Brinker said he has been a big supporter of property rights. Business owners should be able to decide for themselves whether to allow smoking, Brinker added.
However, he said there is “no clear answer” and a lot of “gray areas” when it comes to the role of the government protecting people from the dangers of secondhand smoke.
“Right now it’s not the county’s role to ban smoking,” Brinker said.
The biggest challenges for the county now are its infrastructure, debt service and budget constraints, he said.
Brinker added that he does not know if a smoking ban could help the county with economic development efforts. It is hard to say whether an industry would choose to locate to the county because a smoking ban was in place, he said.
If there were a big push from the public to enact a smoking ban, he said he would have to let the people make that decision by putting the measure on the ballot for a public vote.
“I don’t feel it is my decision for the masses,” Brinker said.
Schatz, a former smoker who quit more than 20 years ago, said he does not like to be around secondhand smoke now and often avoids smoking establishments.
But he said as a nonsmoker he has a personal choice to avoid smoking establishments while allowing those businesses to cater to their clientele. Sometimes there is too much government regulation, he added.
Often, the wall or imaginary line that separates smoking from nonsmoking sections in businesses does no good, Schatz added.
Asked if he thinks a smoking ban should go to a vote of the people, Schatz said it would cost money to hold an election.
Griesheimer said there was discussion a couple of years ago about forming a consortium of counties to enact a smoking ban, and he was not for it then either.