Government

NOTIONS: Hazy logic: No business should have a license to kill

March 21, 2005

Saturday, Feb. 26, was the second-tolast day my boys, Austin and Zach, saw their stepmom alive. They didn't see much of Pam that day. She and they slept late-Pam because she was ill with cancer, Austin and Zach because they're teen-agers.

Once everyone awoke, Zach had a six-hour photo assignment at the IU Natatorium. Late that afternoon, I took Austin to a movie, while my sister-in-law stayed with Pam. When we all returned home, we watched a video, discussed its shortcomings and said our good nights.

Seven days later, Pam would be dead, and my boys and I would be huddled over Zach's laptop, selecting photographs from happier times to display at her memorial service.

As a lifelong nonsmoker afflicted with a smoker's cancer, Pam was incensed at an article in the Feb. 26 Indianapolis Star. What irked her was a quote from John Livengood, president of the Restaurant & Hospitality Association of Indiana.

"There's no question in my mind that smoking's bad for you and secondhand smoke probably is bad for you," Livengood said. But when it comes to exposing workers and others to such hazards, he said, it should be "a business decision the government shouldn't be involved in."

As I coaxed Pam to swallow her appetite stimulants, cough medicine and nutrition supplements (she'd dropped to 115 pounds on a 5-foot-7-inch frame), we talked through Livengood's hazy "logic."

Just as Livengood admits smoking and secondhand smoke are bad for you, so most folks admit toxic sludge is bad for you. But we don't let individual businesses decide whether to dump such poison into our drinking water.

Just as Livengood admits smoking and secondhand smoke are bad for you, so most folks believe hazardous chemicals are bad for you. But we don't let individual businesses decide whether to truck such poison cross-country in rusted-out tankers on bad tires.

Just as Livengood admits smoking and secondhand smoke are bad for you, so most folks believe dioxin emissions are bad for you. But we don't let individual businesses decide whether to spew such poison into our air.

Five days later, City-County Councilor Greg Bowes called me. Bowes has authored an ordinance that, if passed, would ban smoking in restaurants, bars and other public places. As written, it would make Indianapolis residents and visitors among the safest in the nation from secondhand smoke.

Bowes said he'd been moved by Pam's story-the nonsmoker who, as a journalist, spent many hours in smoke-filled rooms covering government and business. He wondered if she'd speak out. He understood her health might prevent her from testifying in person, but would she videotape something?

When I relayed the request to Pam that evening, she said she wasn't sure about the video. She didn't like how she looked, and one round of surgery had affected her speech. But she said she'd write the mayor a letter over the weekend asking him to not only sign, but also advocate, the anti-smoking legislation.

Pam's death, in the wee hours of Saturday, March 5, caused her to miss her selfimposed deadline for that letter-something her journalistic spirit likely regrets.

Because Bowes had told me, two days earlier, that a council colleague had said, "Show me one death certificate where the cause of death is secondhand smoke," I was tempted to request that wording from the emergency room physician who pronounced Pam dead at 2:58 a.m.

Instead, I stayed with my upset son, who'd had to call 911, then usher the medics into our home while I tried in vain to save my collapsed wife with mouth-tomouth resuscitation and CPR.

On Thursday, March 10, more than 500 people gathered at the Indiana History Center to honor Pam and to comfort Zach, Austin, me and the rest of our family.

Councilors Bowes and Angela Mansfield-two sponsors of the anti-smoking ordinance -were there. After the service ended, they made a beeline to the City-County Building, where they listened late into the evening to restaurant and bar owners, one of whom said he'd be "killed" by the proposed anti-smoking legislation. When I read that line in the next morning's newspaper, I wanted to explain to the man what the meaning of the word "killed" is, and precisely who is killing whom.

Sunday night, after all my relatives had gone home, I sat in my empty, silent-asstone house, sorting through Pam's things. Fighting back another round of tears, I turned on the TV, hoping for distraction.

Instead, the set blinked on to a government-channel rerun of Livengood, bar owners and restaurateurs proclaiming the end of the food-and-drink universe should we dare do for human health in Indianapolis what's been done in cities, states and nations around the world: Ban smoking in public places because it sickens and kills people.

I turned the damned thing off and went to bed, wishing my love had written that letter. Maybe then they would've called it "Pam's Law."



Hetrick is president and CEO of Hetrick Communications Inc., an Indianapolis-based public relations and marketing communications firm. His column appears weekly. To comment on this column, go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.comor send e-mail to bhetrick@ibj.com
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