Smoke Signals: How intense should Philly’s war on tobacco be?

Which annoys you more?

People who spew tobacco smoke into the air without regard for how what they are doing might affect your health?

Or: Prissy busybodies who give you tedious lectures about the evils of that cherished pleasure in your life, the occasional smoke?

Either way, you might be interested in Smoke Signals. It’s a community forum series we at WHYY are launching this week.

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It will be a series of dialogues, in four corners of the city, about what you might or might not be willing to support in terms of tobacco policies in Philadelphia.

We’re gathering this input on behalf of the city Department of Public Health, which has given us a list of nine possible approaches to tobacco control. The department wants to know which of those measures you might be inclined to support, which oppose – and how fervently.

Some, such as the idea of mandating warning signs about tobacco’s health effects at every point of sale, are actively on the table.  A hearing on that one was held in the city on Sept. 8.

Some, such as banning smoking in public parks or banning the sale of tobacco near schools, have been tried in other cities and are being studied here.

Some, such as banning smoking in all public housing, are not within the department’s purview, but have been discussed in other cities.

Other ideas on this list:

Banning the sale of tobacco in pharmacies.
 Including coverage of smoking cessation programs in city workers’ health plans, and encouraging other employers to do the same.
 Allowing owners of private, multi-unit housing to ban smoking inside their buildings.
 Promoting the notion that employers should be entitled not to hire smokers, because of lost productivity and higher health care costs.

In other words, the ideas to be discussed – all of which are have been proposed somewhere in America – range from the “Sure, why not?” to the “Are you really serious?”

To stress the point again, the department is not proposing all these ideas for Philadelphia; it is simply trying to take the public’s temperature, to find out how much support there might be for different levels of tobacco control policy.

The first forum is set for Tuesday night at the Perzel Community Center in Mayfair.

On Sept. 26, we’ll be here at WHYY on Independence Mall.

On Oct. 6, the scene shifts to the First Presbyterian Church of Germantown.

The final forum is Oct. 12 at the Fels South Philly Community Center.  (See accompanying flyer for more details.)

All sessions will begin at 6:30 p.m.  Light refreshments will be served.  The dialogues will be led by moderators trained by our partners at the Penn Project for Civic Engagement.  We’ll use a process similiar to the one we crafted for the well-attended, successful city budget workshops we led in the winter of 2009.

We’ll gather and anaylze the yield from the dialogues, and send a report to the Department of Public Health, which we’ll also share with the public.  The department has promised to respond publicly later on how it has used the input in its decision making. The project is funded by a city grant to WHYY.

If you use tobacco, or used to and stopped, or if you have seen tobacco-related illness strike someone near you, or if the personal rights aspects of this issue motivate you the most, we want to hear from you.   If you live in the city, or work, shop or dine here regularly, we want to hear from you.

To register to take part in Smoke Signals, call 215-898-1112 or e-mail You can also register through the Penn Project for Civic Engagement’s Facebook page.

It’ll be an interesting evening well worth your while. And that’s not just blowing smoke.

Click here to read more about WHYY’s Smoke Signals community forums, dates, locations and times.

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