The push for a tobacco free campus policy for Crook County ended in a stalemate this week following opposition to the proposed ordinance.
>The proposed ordinance was met by opposition from community members that feel it is taking away their rights
Members of the recently-formed Crook County wellness team, which was formed to address health concerns for County employees, brought the policy before the Crook County Court. It would prohibit tobacco use, including chewing tobacco, on the property of Crook County facilities. This would go above and beyond a current County policy that prohibits smoking within 20 feet of a door or operable window.
According to Kris Williams, the tobacco prevention coordinator for the Crook County Health Department, the decision followed a five-question online community survey held in October. The survey asked people how important it was to establish a tobacco-free campus in Crook County. In addition, participants answered questions regarding the amount of harm they believe cigarette smoke causes, and whether they go out of their way to avoid it. The survey generated 180 participants.
According to the results, 73 percent of the survey respondents said it was “very important” for Crook County to establish tobacco-free grounds. About 91 percent of the respondents said they try to avoid second-hand smoke when they are out and about, while 76 percent said they consider second-hand smoke “very harmful to one’s health.”
“They overwhelmingly felt that it was very important for the County to adopt a tobacco free campus policy,” Williams said.
However, Prineville resident Craig Brookhart was not so sure the survey proves it, and called out the line of questioning used in the survey.
“It’s predisposed toward the answer you were going for,” he said to Williams during the recent County Court meeting. “Everyone agrees second-hand smoke is bad. Of course they are going to say yes.”
Furthermore, Brookhart said the survey avoided another important question.
“No where in there were you asking, ‘Are you in favor of taking away a little bit of people’s liberty?’” he said.
Brookhart wasn’t the only person to suggest the policy violates people’s rights. Along with multiple citizens, Crook County Commissioner Seth Crawford opposes the ordinance for the same reason.
“In my opinion, it’s not really the County’s job to tell people how to live their lives,” he said. “People are grown adults — they can make decisions for themselves.”
Crawford went on to point out the existing 20-foot rule and questioned the need for more restrictions.
“There’s no reason to make another rule when there is a rule already,” he said.
While Crook County Judge Mike McCabe understands the opposition, he supports the proposed tobacco-free campus policy.
“Is it big brother? Yeah, totally big brother,” he remarked. “But at the same time, when (the Oregon Department of) Health and Human Services comes to town and says, ‘What are you doing about your tobacco problem?’ we’re saying, ‘Well, we’re not doing much of anything.’ That is cause for concern as we go forth into the future. There’s a good chance that some of the public funding from both the federal and state government is going to be dependent on having some sort of tobacco policy in place.”
Nevertheless, it’s not a decision that McCabe comes to easily.
“It’s kind of tough,” he said. “I don’t want to go out here in the back parking lot and say this is a smoke-free campus and you guys have got to go stand in the middle of the street or go back home if you want to smoke. It puts us in an awkward position.”
As far as citizens’ rights goes, Williams suggests that the people affected by second-hand smoke are the ones needing protection.
“Smokers are not a protected class,” she said, “and actually, the majority of citizens do not smoke. So those folks that are smoking are exposing the non-smoker to the hazards of second-hand smoke.”
Williams went on to stress that the policy does not infringe on a person’s right to smoke.
“They can smoke all they want,” she said. “They can go smoke at other places.”
While McCabe is concerned about potentially needing to tell people to smoke elsewhere, Williams believes the policy puts County officials in a better situation in that regard.
“As an employer, do they want the liability of requiring somebody, such as a juror, to enter that courthouse and have them go through that second-hand smoke and possibly have an asthmatic attack?” she said.
Because of the conflicting opinions, the County Court tabled the decision and asked the wellness committee to hold another community survey. Williams said the questions could stay exactly the same as before or they could drop one or two of them in the interest of keeping the survey quick and easy for participants.
This time, the wellness team will push for more exposure and potentially host a public forum. Last time, the survey was advertised in The Roundup as well as the several public agencies’ websites. It was not advertised in the Central Oregonian.
Williams anticipates the new survey coming out at some point in January. If they host a public forum, she said that may be held in February. By the end of that month, if all goes according to plan, the wellness team would again bring the policy back to the County Court for approval.