It wasn’t that many years ago — OK, it was nearly 50 years ago — that a gracious host was expected to provide ashtrays for visitors to his home, even if the host’s family did not smoke.
The ink was hardly dry on the 1964 Surgeon General’s Report, and the tobacco industry was still declaring that there was too little research to prove a connection between smoking and illness.
Those days are gone, and good riddance.
Little by little, a combination of health concerns linked with consideration for the comfort of non-smokers changed the smoking paradigm in America.
Certain offices or common areas were declared off limits for smoking, not without some angst for employers trying to stay in the good graces of both smoking and non-smoking employees.
As proof of the danger that second hand smoke poses to non-smokers became incontrovertible, more and more businesses insisted that smokers use areas provided specifically for that purpose — an area in which non-smokers were not required to work — and still later, step outside for their smoke breaks.
In growing numbers, employers now are taking the next step, forbidding smoking anywhere on their property, inside or out, even in employees’ parked cars.
Among such employers are Polk County schools, many hospitals, and this newspaper.
Earlier this month, the school system underscored its commitment in a student rally at Mosaic Park at which the school board stated its policy in unmistakable terms: “Tobacco free, everywhere, by everyone, at all times.”
The school initiative is particularly important, because many, if not most, smokers take up the habit in their teen years, often due to peer pressure. With both teachers and students forbidden to light up on campus, schools are setting a good example as well as eliminating an established health hazard.
There remains one glaring need in Polk County government for elimination, or at least stringent restrictions, on lighting up: the court house.
While smoking is banned inside the building — a ban occasionally violated by smokers who duck into a stairwell, we’re told — smoking is allowed immediately outside the two main entrances. Benches for smokers are posted on both sides of the primary entrance on the north side of the building.
The pall of smoke is particularly thick at the west entrance, where jurors arrive each morning and through which almost all employees and visitors exit. (The north entrance is for entry only.) The west entrance is at the corner of a patio which is marked off into “Smoking” and “Non-Smoking” areas, a delineation that is almost comical in that the only barrier between the two areas is a pair of concrete support columns. Unless cigarette smoke has learned to read, the labels are pointless.
Just beyond the “Non-Smoking” area is the entry/exit. It is thick with smoke all day long.
If there is a need for a designated smoking area on the court house property — and we do not see that there is — it clearly should not be in a place through which visitors and employees must pass on a daily basis.
We urge the county to correct this affront to both the health and the comfort of those who work in or conduct business at the courthouse.