April 28, 2007

No smoking allowed

Are anti-smoking efforts going too far?


Photo illustration/Bob Ellis/staff photographer

Staff Reporter

It’s a debate that has likely played out countless times in recent years — in restaurants and bars, at company meetings, in all walks of life.
The Cortland County Legislature’s Health Committee joined the fray at an April 11 discussion over the county Health Department’s intent to add its name to a national push to make all new movies that contain people smoking R-rated.
The question is how far is too far when it comes to restricting tobacco use?
Some committee members argued that restricting smoking in movies geared toward young people would be a way to combat an industry that continues to target youths.
“I think — we are the Health Committee— we should be promoting a healthy lifestyle,” said Committee Chairman Sean Clark (D-2nd Ward).
Others argued that the measure went too far.
“It just seems a little too ‘Big Brother’ to me,” said Legislator Tom Williams (R-Homer).
“Does this mean if John Wayne was still alive, all his movies would be R?” cracked Mike McKee (R-Cincinnatus, Freetown, Taylor and Willet).
Ultimately the committee voted 4-3 in favor of the measure, meaning the health department will contribute $1,200 to WELCO LKA Inc. which, with the backing of numerous health agencies from across the country, will attempt to sway the Motion Picture Association of America to agree to rate R all new movies containing tobacco use.
Jennifer Hamilton, who heads the Health Department’s Tobacco Free Cortland initiative, said she was concerned that movies have become a key marketing tool for tobacco manufacturers.
“We’re really up against an immense power, an industry that spends $15 billion marketing their product nationwide,” Hamilton said. “And they’re pouring that money into finding ways to get to kids, because they understand that in order to stay in business they have to reach that next generation of smokers.”
That realization is a key factor driving the efforts of Tobacco Free Cortland, Hamilton said, which is promoting a number of new initiatives aimed at keeping young people from taking up smoking, and at helping those who do smoke and who are interested, to quit.
“What we’re trying to do is denormalize something that’s been normalized for a long time in our society, and that’s going to take some time,” Hamilton said. “With the kids, they see the dangers of tobacco as an old person’s illness, they think they can quit at any time, but most adults will tell you that they started smoking well before they were 18, and now they have a terrible time quitting.”
Among both smokers and nonsmokers in the county, according to a 2006 survey done by the Health Department, 80 percent supported restricting smoking in front of public entranceways, while 75 percent supported restricting smoking in public parks and at outdoor events.
Among the 25 percent of residents who identified themselves as smokers, 59 percent supported restrictions in front of entranceways, while 55 and 51 percent supported restrictions at outdoor events and in parks, respectively.
Generally speaking, for many smokers in the area the increasing number of restrictions on smoking have become increasingly difficult to swallow.
“Smokers understand nonsmokers not wanting to have to deal with the smoke, and whenever we’ve been asked to accommodate, we’re always willing, but this is getting out of control,” said Sheila Tarbell, a smoker who is owner of Malarkey’s Pub n Grub in McGraw.
Tarbell has had issues with the Health Department over enforcement of the Clean Indoor Air Act, which prohibits smoking in public buildings.
“I understand some of it, but you’ve just got to wonder when it’s going to stop,” Tarbell said. “Are they going to tell us we can’t smoke in our homes? Are we going to have to leave town to have a cigarette?”
Lorie Sanders and Meaghan Thorpe, two smokers having a cigarette on Main Street in Cortland Monday afternoon, and their friends Sam Sturdevant and G.J. Morsey, both nonsmokers, agreed.
“I have a kid, so I think it’s great in some places, but it just gets a little crazy,” Sanders said.
Morsey said he did not understand restrictions in bars.
“I can see in a restaurant, but if you’re going to be drinking in a bar, why shouldn’t you be able to smoke? Everybody there’s of age, it’s their choice to be there,” Morsey said.
“If people don’t want to be around it, there were definitely bars around that didn’t allow it before the law,” Sturdevant agreed.
Tarbell suggested that businesses should be able to purchase a permit to allow for smoking.
“I’d do it because my customers would want me to, but there’d be plenty of places that wouldn’t, then you could let people decide for themselves,” Tarbell said. “This is something that’s legal, that a lot of people enjoy, why shouldn’t they be able to sit down and have a drink and a cigarette at the same time?”
Still, because tobacco is known to be dangerous not just to smokers but to those exposed to second-hand smoke, health advocates say that restrictions are a public health necessity.
“Smoking is the leading preventable cause of death in the world — I think we wanted to make a clear bold statement that tobacco use is just not appropriate in a health care environment,” Tom Quinn, spokesman for Cortland Regional Medical Center, said of CRMC’s recent and controversial move to become a fully smoke-free.
“I hear the talk about personal freedoms, and it is a personal choice,” Hamilton said. “But the majority of people don’t smoke, and their ability to breathe clean air should be the priority.”


Consolidation  talks produce creative options

Staff Reporter

The subject of consolidation of municipal services and entire municipalities received a lengthy and frank debate Thursday at a meeting of the County, City, Towns, Villages and Schools Committee.
Attorney John Ryan Jr., who said he has been pushing for consolidation for decades, gave a lengthy presentation about the potential benefits of consolidating, and closed by urging the legislators in attendance to initiate a study into where and how the county could consolidate.
“I firmly believe that this cooperation is necessary,” Ryan said. “I believe that eventually we’re going to have to completely redo Cortland County.”
The ideal municipality, Ryan said, would include:
a downtown area where services such as schools, fire and police departments, shopping and community services could be centralized;
a rural area for housing developments;
an agricultural area; and
area available for industrial development and potential expansion.
Few of the municipalities in the county contain all of those features, Ryan said, with the city of Cortland being the biggest problem because of the lack of space within the city for expansion.
Ryan proposed an ambitious plan that would essentially whittle the county’s 15 towns, three villages and the city down into six municipalities.
“If there’s going to be change, I believe we have to do something drastic,” he said.
Under Ryan’s proposal the county’s new six municipalities would be laid out as follows:
The city of Cortland would be expanded, consuming parts of Cortlandville, to allow for further economic expansion in the city.
The rest of Cortlandville, including McGraw, would be merged with Virgil to form a municipality.
Homer, Scott and Preble would consolidated into one municipality.
Cincinnatus, Willet, Taylor and Freetown would merge.
Truxton, Cuyler and Solon would merge.
Marathon, Lapeer and Harford would merge.


Purr Fect World trial set to begin

Staff Reporter

A non-jury trial is scheduled to begin Tuesday in the case of a local cat clinic charged with neglect.
Purr Fect World Inc. is charged with 49 counts of failure to provide proper food and water to an impounded animal, an unclassified misdemeanor, after a police raid found nearly 300 cats at a house and clinic on 7 Wheeler Ave.
Officials said when they raided the property they found the cats in deplorable conditions with much of the house and clinic covered in feces. There were also 21 dead cats in a freezer, police said.
The trial, scheduled to begin at 9 a.m., will determine if the corporation is at fault for the treatment of animals the police found. No person connected with the corporation is facing jail time, District Attorney David Hartnett said Friday.
Hartnett said if the corporation is found guilty of the charges then it will be subject to fines, which he believes could be levied separately for each offense.
The maximum fine for a conviction of each crime is $1,000, according to the state Agriculture and Markets Web site.
The clinic was raided on Sept. 1, when police charged Eugina Cute, 54, who was living at 7 Wheeler Ave. at the time. Cute and Purr Fect World owner Lisa Alderman, 43, of 503 Third St., Liverpool, were both originally charged with the same crimes the corporation is now facing.
Those charges were later amended in City Court to only apply only to the corporation. Hartnett said Friday that he is unsure who will have to pay the fine if the corporation is found guilty.