According to an article on the WOWT (Omaha NBC affiliate) web site, a Nebraska anti-smoking group is supporting the use of the 9-1-1 emergency system to enforce the new Omaha smoking ban, which goes into effect tomorrow. The group - Nebraska GASP - wants people to call 911 if they see someone smoking somewhere they shouldn't be.
The Omaha police department has asked the public to help enforce the smoking ban by calling 9-1-1 to report violators. When asked to comment about this, Nebraska GASP president Mark Welsch apparently told WOWT that "he agrees with OPD's directive to call 9-1-1."
The county's emergency director has warned that the use of 9-1-1 to report smoking ban violations threatens the emergency system, endangering the public's safety. He has asked people not to call 9-1-1 to report seeing someone smoking in a place where smoking is prohibited by the city ordinance.
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I guess I was right when I argued that the tobacco control movement had run amok. This is about as amok as you can be: asking people to call 9-1-1 to report smoking ban violations.
The ordinance itself does not mention anything about 9-1-1, so I'm not blaming anti-smoking groups for acting improperly with respect to the ordinance itself. But it seems quite clear that Nebraska GASP, arguably the most prominent anti-smoking group in the Cornhusker State, supports the use of the state's emergency response system to address smoking ban violations. It seems that this anti-smoking group views someone lighting up as an emergency.
The extremist element of the tobacco control movement is out of control. In this particular example, the lack of reason and restraint being exercised actually threatens the public's safety. If the 9-1-1 system gets inundated with calls about potential smoking ban violations, it could interfere with emergency personnel's ability to respond to bona fide emergencies.
How would like to call 9-1-1 because you're suffering a heart attack but experience a delay in an ambulance getting to you because the system was tied up with calls from people ratting on smokers who lit up in public?
While the smoking violation complaints to 9-1-1 would only come in as a Priority 3 call (to which police officers respond only when they have time), it would undermine the police department's ability to undertake important proactive police work. And if too many people called in, it could tie up the system, delaying response times. The police would have to respond, at some point, to these calls, and a substantial amount of police officers' time could be tied up.
I always thought that smokers' rights groups were exaggerating when they complained about smoking bans representing the establishment of the smoking police. But that is precisely what Nebraska GASP is trying to establish in Omaha.
Mishegas like this is eventually going to convince the public that we are simply a bunch of fanatics. Ultimately, it's going to undermine our effectiveness in promoting the public's health.