November 1, 2013 10:00:16 AM
Nathan Gregory - [email protected]
In 2006, Starkville became the first municipality in Mississippi to adopt a smoke-free building ordinance.
Columbus followed in 2010 with a partial ordinance.
West Point has no such law on the books. But that might change.
Stephanie Collier, project director of the Office of Tobacco Control in Lowndes, Oktibbeha and Clay counties for Family Resource Center, is spearheading a charge to bring a smoke-free ordinance to the Clay County town. She spoke to West Point selectmen last month about the issue.
West Point Mayor Robbie Robinson said he will bring the topic up during a work session Thursday to gauge selectmen interest in drafting an ordinance. Their response will dictate the subject coming up again in future meetings, the mayor said.
While Robinson is a non-smoker, his chief concern would be how to properly enforce the ordinance if it is adopted. On the same token, most establishments in West Point already voluntarily disallow cigarette smoking and he believes business owners would comply.
"If I go into a restaurant I always want non-smoking, and I think that should be provided," Robinson said. "It's a pretty tough issue to enforce total, complete compliance."
Collier, an ex-smoker, said she wanted to contribute to what she hopes will be a healthier state overall long-term. She's been working with restaurants in town, encouraging owners who allowed smoking to voluntarily change course with success.
"I know exactly where smokers come from," Collier said. "I know exactly where non-smokers come from as well. We're all striving to have a healthier Mississippi -- not just in one region. It's one drop in the bucket just for one city to become smoke-free. Mississippi has gotten a bad rap on just about everything unhealthy. This is a focus on moving towards the right direction."
In individual discussions with selectmen, Collier said she's gotten mixed responses. Some are all for it, while others see a smoke-free rule as over-impeding business owners' rights.
"I don't think they'd be stepping on any toes," she said. "Even smokers have gone into a restaurant and said they would rather smell a steak cooking than an ash tray. We're not saying it's against the law to smoke. We're just saying that it should be a respectful thing not to do it in public areas where other people do not smoke."
One selectman, Gary Dedeaux, is also a business owner. He runs two Gary's Pawn & Gun locations and said he's voluntarily enforced a no-smoking policy in both of them for more than a decade. Like Robinson, Dedeaux is a non-smoker and avoids places that allow it. But he respects the rights of business owners.
"I don't personally like to force anybody to do anything," Dedeaux said. "It's up to everybody that doesn't smoke to determine whether they want to go into that business or not that allows smoking. There are businesses in West Point that allow smoking and it bothers me so much that I won't go in them because the second-hand smoke does bother me tremendously. If they became smoke-free, I would because I do support all of our local businesses."
One such business is Cathy's, a restaurant that has a smoking and non-smoking section. Owner Okie Smith said she didn't feel a mandatory smoke-free law would hurt her bottom line.
"It might help business," Smith said. "We've had a few people walk in and even though it's sectioned off, (smoke) is still in the air. I have some walk in and they turn around and walk right back out because they can smell it. If they know smoking is not allowed, those people would come back in. When (cities adopting smoke-free policies) first started I was thinking it would probably hurt business a lot, but if they all go that way I really don't think it would affect it."
Columbus Mayor Robert Smith said he's also been in discussions with Collier and wants to propose making the Friendly City's partial smoke-free policy comprehensive early next year. As it stands in Columbus, patrons must be at least 21 years old to enter establishments where smoking is allowed inside.
"I told her I was interested in bringing it back before the council," Smith said. "We're having a retreat on Dec. 5 and I'm going to bring it up at that time."
Nathan Gregory covers city and county government for The Dispatch.