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A 30-year public smoking battle

City alliance's work led to first ban at groceries, drugstores


The July 16 editorial “Clearing the Air” sent me to my files to retrieve a folder entitled “Smoking Ordinance – Education, 1983-1984.”

I thought you might like to know a bit more about those early efforts to clear the air. and that we had an ordinance 30 years before the state.

A group of us, with the counsel of Dr. John O’Brian, had formed the Human Ecology Action League, which was interested in promoting healthy, clean air, not only for those with breathing problems and allergies, but for all citizens.

Knowing that ingesting cigarette smoke was harmful to everyone, including those with certain health problems, we contemplated that since everyone needs to shop for food and pick up health-promoting medications, we would attempt to try to eliminate smoking from grocery stores and drug stores.

We began with visits to local institutions whose business was either public health, marketing healthy food or supplying health and medical needs. Merchants who had hesitated to ask customers to leave smoking materials outside were more than supportive or our effort since smoking in stores is also a fire hazard and the Fort Wayne Fire Prevention Department was happy to offer assistance to enforce such an ordinance if it were to be approved by City Council.

So we went to work educating ourselves and attempting to remove smoking from grocery stores and pharmacies.

Our first letter to the editor was submitted on June 16, 1983. It read, “Since everyone must obtain food and since many persons are adversely affected by smoke, it is hoped that store managers will cooperate with the effort. Most smokers probably do not know how much their smoke makes others hurt. Many persons are also not aware of the increasing amount of information regarding the harmful effects of secondhand or side-stream smoke upon healthy persons.”

With the help of a diversity of people and the support of professionals such as doctors and elected officials, as well as health organizations such as The Lung Association and the Board of Health and newspapers, we attempted to reach people of all ages and interests. With scores of people beginning to take more and more responsibility for their own health, this effort was an excellent opportunity for citizens to speak up and speak out regarding their own health and safety.

The ordinance was passed by City Council on April 10, 1984 which, if my calculation is correct, is 30 years before the state one.

It is good to observe that each ordinance continues to make our “Most Livable City” even more so.

I have selected just a few documents from my very large file of our journey toward Fort Wayne’s first anti-smoking ordinance. There is no doubt that the most effective tool in educating the public was the newspapers’ support.