Archive for March, 2009

Majority favors smoking ban

no-smoking-sign1I’m hearing from some people who say they believe a majority of Clark Countians are against the Health Department’s smoking ban. But several polls indicate they are wrong.

Before enacting the regulation prohibiting indoor smoking in most public places, the Health Department, with the help of the University of Kentucky surveyed residents to find out how much popular support it would have. The survey found that most would favor it. Sometime later, the city and county governments, as part of the Community Action Plan, conducted a survey, and the percentage of those surveyed had gone up slightly.

The Winchester Sun has also done some online polls, and the results have always been the same as the surveys conducted by local government: 60 percent or more in favor of the smoking ban. But the results of our latest poll are overwhelmingly in favor.

The online poll posted last Friday night asked: Should the Clark County Board of Health rescind its regulation of indoor smoking in public places as a small group of local business owners is asking?

As of 12:45 today (the following Friday), 70 percent voted that the ban should not be overturned, and only 30 percent voted that it should be.

What is even more amazing is the number of people who took part in this poll. It is greater than any number we’ve ever had for any poll, 7,345 at last count. That’s 5141 against repealing the ban versus 2204 in favor of repeal.

Usually, we have only a few hundred people participate in our weekly Question of the Week poll.

Of course, online polls can be manipulated. Just as an organized campaign involving letters to newspapers or telephone calls to elected officials can make it appear that a majority of the people take a certain position when they don’t, an organized campaign to have supporters or opponents vote online can skew the results and distort the perception of public opinion.

But consider this: A group of local business owners have an organized campaign to overturn or amend the smoking ban. They are collecting petitions, encouraging members to write letters to the editor, having representatives speak at meetings of the health board, city commission and fiscal court. I’m not aware of any similar organized effort on the part of supporters of the smoking ban.

What that tells me is that the percentage of Clark Countians who favor the smoking ban is probably much higher than 70 percent.

Nonsmokers have rights too

ash-tray-freephotocomIt still reeks in here.

About two hours ago, a man came into my office to talk with me about something. He was neatly dressed, clean, smart, polite and likable, and I enjoyed talking with him. But I wished he had used the telephone instead.

He was standing six feet away, yet I had a hard time concentrating because the stench of cigarette smoke on his clothes was so overpowering. I’m asthmatic and allergic to  tobacco smoke.

While I was talking with this man, the smell of tobacco was irritating my eyes, nose, throat and lungs. I could feel it down in my chest and couldn’t keep from  coughing and wheezing. As soon as he left, I sneezed. And the smell of tobacco smoke has lingered long after his visit.

Many other people who aren’t routinely exposed to tobacco smoke have the same kind of reaction on those occasions when they are.

At the last Clark County Board of Health meeting I attended, Dr. Rebecca Bartee, a member of the board, said she would like to see Clark Regional Medical Center ban smoking everywhere on its campus — not only to send the message that smoking is unhealthy, but also because people sit in their cars and smoke, then come into a small waiting room and cause others — some of  them patients with respiratory problems — to have to suffer the same effects I’ve just described.

I don’t think most smokers realize how irritating cigarette smoke is to those of us who aren’t smokers and aren’t used to being around cigarettes. Yes, smokers have rights, but so do the majority of us who don’t smoke. And while people reeking of cigarette fumes is just something we’ll have to accept, we shouldn’t have to accept them lighting up in an enclosed place that is open to the public and where everyone — smokers and nonsmokers alike — has a right to be.

If there are 20 people in a restaurant dining room and one person decides to smoke, then suddenly the other 19 in the room are also inhaling noxious and toxic fumes, whether they want to breathe them or not. Of course, the nonsmokers could get up and leave, but why should they have to if they aren’t the ones doing something to offend others?

These are some of the reasons why I support the board’s recent decision to enact a health regulation prohibiting smoking in public places and why oppose efforts by a handful of local business owners and political activists to get the city and county governments to go on record as being against the regulation.

In a comment to one of my recent blog posts, Mary Haggard says that unless I “own a business and suffer” from the smoking ban, I am not entitled to an opinion on the matter. I beg to differ. Everybody is affected by smoking in public places, and everybody is entitled to an opinion.

She goes on to say that my expressing an opinion on a public issue (something I have a responsibility to do as an editorial writer and columnist) is like someone who “has no children giving advice to someone that has children.”

Well, I haven’t yet been blessed with a wife and children. But that doesn’t mean I can’t love children I know or be concerned about their welfare. What kind of person would I be if I weren’t?

And what kind of person would I be if I weren’t concerned about the health of people who work in restaurants, offices and other public places where they are exposed to tobacco smoke — a substance that is not only bothersome and annoying, but also poisonous and sometimes deadly?

The evidence is incontrovertible: Secondhand tobacco smoke is hazardous. And it is the responsibility of the Health Department to regulate public health hazards in the workplace and other public places, just as it is the responsibility of OSHA and the Labor Department to protect the safety of workers and customers.

Having a business license doesn’t give an owner the right to do or allow anything he or she wants inside the establishment. Property rights have always been limited and must be balanced against individuals’ rights and the public interest — and they always will be.

What do you read in the Sun?

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What do you read when you read The Winchester Sun? What do you like about the paper, and what would you change if you could? Do you mostly read the print edition of the paper, or its Web site — or both?
Those are the kinds of questions we want answers to so that we can make the Sun a better newspaper — one that is responsive to readers.
Hardly a day goes by that I don’t talk with some reader about the content of the newspaper. Just this week, for example, I heard from two readers who said they think that reporting all the traffic cases and misdemeanors in the court listings is a huge waste of space. Although we’re putting more emphasis on local news than a few years ago, some have said we’ve gone too far in eliminating state, nation and world news, while others say they get their national news from other sources and that they want even more local content.
But what is local? Some readers say it’s just Winchester and Clark County, but a telephone survey three years ago found that most people think “local” includes nearby towns and counties. Maybe that’s a reflection of an increasingly mobile society.
While it’s useful to talk with readers one-on-one, we’re hoping that a more scientific approach will give us an even better picture of what our readers want from this newspaper — both in print and online.
Beginning this week, a group of community journalism students from Eastern Kentucky University will start gathering information from readers from a survey of 700 subscribers that was mailed out at the end of last week. Most of them should be in mailboxes today. If you received one in the mail, please take a few minutes to fill out the questionnaire and return it so that we can get a better understanding of what you want from us.
If you don’t receive a survey in the mail and want to fill one out, you can type in the following link and find the survey online at SurveyMonkey.com.
Go to: http://www.surveymonkey.com/s.aspx?sm=fLIm32km0aGGlc8wIdlVRQ_3d_3d
In addition to the print survey, there is a similar online survey that will be posted today. There will be a link on the Winchester Sun’s Web page and the Sun’s Facebook page where readers can access the online survey.
Our Web page is at www.winchestersun.com, and Facebook is at www.facebook.com. When you go to your Facebook page, just type in a search for The Winchester Sun.
We thank you for helping us better serve you.

Randy Patrick is the managing editor of The Winchester Sun. You may contact him at (859) 355-1222 or rpatrick@winchestersun.com.

Making the Bluegrass world class

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Kentucky’s Bluegrass region has a storied past as “horse country,” but its future may be brighter as a result of the 2010 Alltech-FEI World Equestrian Games.
On Wednesday, John Nicholson, president of the Kentucky Horse Park, spoke to members of the Winchester and Mount Sterling Kiwanis Clubs about what the Horse Park has been doing to make sure the Olympic-style event is truly world class.
There are multimillion-dollar construction projects under way, including indoor and outdoor arenas to accommodate the 60,000 visitors expected to attend on each of the 16 days of the event. The games are to feature more than 600 of the best horses and riders in the world for eight equestrian sports, and they will result in a short-term infusion of more than $150 million into the region’s economy.
This is the first time the World Equestrian Games are being held outside of Europe, although Lexington was a runner up for the 2006 games, which were held in Aachen, Germany.
The eyes of the world will be on Kentucky in 2010. The attention on the games and its main sponsor, Alltech, could attract new businesses and future equine events to the region.
This is a bit overdue, but a big thumbs up to Winchester native Nicholson and the Kentucky Horse Park for all they’ve done to make the games something for which all Kentuckians can be proud.

Our next superintendent?
Thumbs up to Elaine Farris for her leadership as Kentucky’s interim commissioner of education.
Farris, who has taught and held administrative positions at several schools in Clark and Fayette counties, including serving as principal of Shearer Elementary and assistant principal of George Rogers Clark High, had been deputy commissioner of the Education Department’s Bureau of Learning and Results Services prior to the appointment as chief.

She made history by being the state’s first African-American school district superintendent (for Shelby County). A source tells me she is being considered for superintendent of Clark County Public Schools. (See comment below.) While I would be inclined to favor another outsider for superintendent — because of the bitter factionalism that exists in our school system here — Farris has been away long enough that she should be considered an exception.

Smokescreen
Thumbs down to the group of business owners who want the Clark County Fiscal Court to bully the Board of Health into rescinding or weakening the public smoking ban. It won’t work.
The Health Department is an agency of the state and doesn’t get its authority from the county magistrates. It would have been better if the Fiscal Court had made the decision as to whether or not to enact an ordinance on smoking, but the health board members are well within their rights to regulate indoor air quality as a health regulation. According to all the surveys that have been done, a great majority of Clark Countians think it is also their responsibility.
So let’s end the nonsense about a smoking regulation somehow violating “constitutional” rights, or about how it will drive small enterprises out of business. We know it won’t.

Saving newspapers — a dime at a time

time-coverI would encourage everyone who cares about the future of newspapers to read Time magazine’s recent cover story, “How to Save Your Newspaper.”

The gist of it is that newspapers should charge for online content on a per-use basis, but make it cheap and as easy as iTunes.

You can read the story at www.time.com, or just Google Time “How to Save Your Newspaper” to get a print-out edition and see what others have said about it.

Feel free to share your thoughts on The Winchester Sun’s Facebook discussion board and/or here on my blog.

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