Government

NOTIONS: A passionate, personal plea for public smoking ban

April 18, 2005

I'd rather not be here today. And I don't mean just this public hearing. I mean if I weren't responsible for two sons and 27 employees, I'd rather not be anywhere.

Since you began this process, I've watched your proceedings on TV. I've heard folks question one another's statistics and call one another names. I've heard the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce, of which I'm a member, say we must "balance" human health and corporate profit. And I've had Council members tell me they're tired of this issue; please make it go away.

But this isn't about statistics. And it's not about balance. It's about life and death. And while I empathize with councilors' frustration over all the lobbying, we elected you-not profit-driven business people like me-to protect the lives and preserve the health of our citizens.

One citizen whose life you were supposed to protect and whose health you were supposed to preserve can't be here this evening. Her name was Pamela Klein. For 14 years, she was my wife, my lover and my best friend. For 14 years, she was stepmother to my twin sons. For eight years, she was a leading business journalist in this city. During the past six years, she helped me triple the size of one particular business.

Forty days ago, just before she was supposed to begin her sixth round of cancer treatment, Pam collapsed and died in my arms.

My 16-year-old son had to call 911. He had to watch me try to save his stepmom with mouth-to-mouth and CPR. He had to watch the medics carry her limp body downstairs. He had to watch them shock her with paddles. He had to watch the ambulance drive her away. He had to watch me honor her wish not to become the next Terri Schiavo. And he had to listen as I called her parents and told them their daughter was dead.

This is not about balancing health and profit. It's about life and death.

Pam never smoked-not once. But she died of a smoker's cancer. She had no risk factors for this disease, save one: As an adult-and I want to stress this to all who would limit this legislation to children-as an adult, Pam's job as a journalist required her to cover politicians, government officials and business people in smoke-filled restaurants, bars, offices and other public places.

I know there are councilors and witnesses in these hearings who've cynically asked to see death certificates listing secondhand smoke as the cause. You're not going to find them, of course, any more than you'll find one citing high cholesterol. These are means, not ends, and the triggers often precede the impact by years.

But I have here a death certificate for Pamela S. Klein. It's signed by Lance Armstrong's oncologist, who also treated Pam. The cause of death is "metastatic head and neck cancer." In other words, this lifelong nonsmoker died of a cancer for which 90-percent of all cases are connected to tobacco. And it spread from the mouth I used to kiss, to the neck I long to touch, to the lungs that gave her life.

This is not about balancing health vs. profit. It's about life and death.

During these hearings, I've heard bar and restaurant owners say government shouldn't tell them what to do. But having run the Hobart dishwasher myself, and having watched my brother manage restaurants and tend bars for years, I know that every law-abiding, food-serving, alcohol-pouring business in this county follows hundreds of government regulations every day to protect the health and safety of employees and customers.

Because of government, you buy shatter-resistant light bulbs. Because of government, you cook chicken to 165 degrees. Because of government, you make employees wash their hands with state-specified cleansers. Because of government, your employees are prohibited from smoking around our food, while your customers may legally spew tobacco all over your loved ones, and mine, our dinners and our drinks.

One final note of hypocrisy: Indianapolis government, through its Knozone campaign, is paying my company to teach people about dangerous air outdoors, while Indianapolis bar owners and my Chamber of Commerce ask this committee for a compromise that says, "Hey, as long as you're an adult like Pam Klein, you're stuck with carcinogens while doing your job indoors."

I have a request of this Council: To protect the health of citizens like Pam Klein, add a smoking ban to the long-established and long-accepted list of health and safety regulations in Marion County.

I also have a request of all who'd "balance" human health and corporate profit: Since you cherish so much the cash to be had from carcinogens, buy me back my sons' stepmother; buy me back my business partner; buy me back the woman I love; and buy me back my reason to live.



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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