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COLUMN

Happytown

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While we were busy trying to shake the sprinkles out of our hair from Gov. Rick Scott’s disastrous doughnut “work day” last week, it came to our attention that there are far greater festering health concerns than those filled with gubernatorial shame custard. Beyond curious, we duly hacked our nicotine chagrin all the way over to the Camellia Room at the serene Leu Gardens in time to find out just what shape the coming plague might take. And, as it turned out, that shape looked a lot like us.

The occasion for worry was an Aug. 4 seminar-cum-press conference hosted by the Orange County Health Department centering on its “all in” program, an anti-smoking nudge made possible by a $6.6 million federal stimulus grant last year. You may already be familiar with “all in” as it has been saturating the local network airwaves with images of playground children wearing gas masks, presumably in fear of that Pall Mall teargas commonly referred to as secondhand smoke. Whatever, we get it: Smoking is bad.

The meeting wasn’t intended to be a health-as-morality lecture – though we were naturally defensive, smelling like an ashtray and all – but rather a sort of “non-smoking is awesome” curveball intended to fuel a whisper campaign that might lead citizens to pressure their elected leaders into killing everybody with yellow fingers. Oh, there was plenty of Centers for Disease Control literature involving babies inhaling the rancid exhalations of the worst mother ever (ear infections, asthma attacks) tucked into folders, but the primary focus was the fact that, even in a hospitality-oriented economy such as ours, further restrictions on smoking are not, we repeat, NOT a financial threatto the business community. Professor Frank Chaloupka, the director of the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Health Policy Center and wearer of the best handlebar mustacheknown to man, delivered the goods from a recent economic study that proved “in some cases, being smoke-free actually has a positive economic impact on businesses and the hospitality industry.” Also, maybe we shouldn’t smoke in bars. You don’t say!

Following a quick set of graphs to illustrate said point, Chaloupka and health department media guy Dain Weister opened the floor to questions, but none of the other four meager media outlets in attendance seemed to have any. Needless to say, we felt a little pressure to come up with something to defend ourselves. We asked whether the county was furthering any plans to expand smoking cutbacks. No, said Weister, because the county policy is preempted by state law and “we don’t have a lobby.” Wink.

“But Big Tobacco does,” we smirked. “Also, are these economic figures isolated to individual business revenues, or do they take into account the taxes actually brought in by the sale of cigarettes?”

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