November 25, 2009 4:11:00 PM
Kristin Mamrack -
After a dozen residents spoke Tuesday during a public hearing on a proposed smoking ban, the Columbus City Council is expected to vote on a ban Dec. 1.
The majority of those who spoke Tuesday were opposed to a ban; although, several business owners asked for a complete ban, if one is enacted at all.
"We''ve been through this," said John Bean, a stockholder in The Eat With Us Group, which owns several restaurants -- including Harvey''s, Sweet Peppers Deli and The Grill -- in Columbus, as well as restaurants in Starkville and Tupelo, which both have city smoking bans. "As a business owner, I''m opposed to this ordinance.
"I also understand these things are happening, happening everywhere," he continued. "(Starkville''s ordinance, which allows smoking on restaurant patios) manipulated the market and allowed some restaurants and bars in town to have an advantage over others. I have one of those (restaurants with no outside patio section), and it very adversely affected that business. In Tupelo, they have a 100-percent ban in all places. I think restaurant and business owners would tell you it''s fair to everyone."
Asking the council to "ban smoking 100 percent in all public places," Bean said doing so would ensure a "level playing field for everyone."
The ordinance, proposed by Ward 3 Councilman Charlie Box, bans smoking in "all enclosed public places," including restaurants.
However, the ordinance, which largely is modeled after a Tennessee state law, allows smoking in "age-restricted venues," or bars, restaurants and other establishments which only allow people age 21 or over to enter, and "private clubs," which restrict access to the general public.
As written, the ordinance allows businesses with three or fewer employees to designate enclosed smoking rooms, inaccessible to the general public.
Additionally, exemptions are provided for "non-enclosed areas of public places, including, open-air patios, porches or decks."
"I''m in favor of a smoking ban, but in no way in favor of the ban as it''s written," said William "Bart" Lawrence, a co-owner of The Princess Theater. "I believe the only way for this to be fair is if it is across the board. I don''t believe anything good can come from loopholes and exceptions."
A decision for the business owners
"Most business owners feel like it''s a decision for them," said Clyde Rhea, a non-smoker who also is a co-owner of Sey''s Sports Bar and Grill. "I think they should have a right to make their decision, without the government, on their own. People should have enough sense to know whether they should or should not (frequent or own a smoking establishment). That being said, it seems the ordinance is inevitable. But I was going to thank you for having the foresight to not have a rubber-stamp ordinance. I thank you for giving Sey''s the option to be age-restricted.
"A sports bar like ours is different from a regular restaurant," he continued. "Someone comes to a place like ours to watch a ball game or to sing karaoke and they''re going to stay a while. If they''re a smoker, they''re not going to stay. It will put a business like ours out of business; that''s a fact."
"I''m opposed to any ordinance banning smoking, because I feel like the customers and business owners should decide that," said Carl Hogan, who also is a co-owner of Sey''s Sports Bar and Grill. "It should not be forced on them."
"To sit back and try to convince yourselves it doesn''t have an effect on the economy is to fool yourselves," he added, showing the council data he said supported restaurants and bars in California and other states were hurt by smoking bans.
Petition of ''discontent''
Hogan also presented a petition with 428 signatures of residents expressing their "discontent" over the proposed ban.
"The decision should be left solely to the proprietor," he said, noting he signed a three-year lease for Sey''s based on the failure of the previous ordinance to pass. "But if it''s passed, (the ban) should be the same as those in Tennessee. Without smoking, we will not survive."
"I can''t see why they can''t just leave it the way it is," Kenny Wiggins said of Columbus not having a smoking ban. "If people don''t allow smoking, they have a sign (prohibiting smoking). And people (who are bothered by smoke), they don''t have to go there. I think you''d be better off to leave it the way it is."
"I feel if there''s going to be a ban, it should be 100 percent across the board," said Brian Roberts, a co-owner of The Princess Theater. "It should be in full, so no one has leverage over another. All of us should have to obey the same rules and there should not be an age restriction that changes it."
Columbus versus Starkville
"You''ve got to step into the 21st Century," Bob McGrath, a resident who moved to Columbus five years ago, told the council. "This is ridiculous. Most states have gone no-smoking. Restaurants have, and I don''t see where it''s affected their business.
"All things being equal, five years ago, if Starkville were non-smoking, I would''ve moved there," he continued. "As new executives come in, they''re going to have a choice between Columbus and Starkville to reside and, believe you me, we''re going to suffer. For the benefit of the general economy, we need to pass a smoking ban. The vast majority of folks want it non-smoking."
"I respect others that don''t smoke, but I ask it should be the owner''s right whether to allow smoking," said Ronald Darnell Clowers.
Susan Mackay, who formerly served as Ward 2 councilwoman and spearheaded earlier efforts for the council to enact a smoking ban, said she''s "for an all-out smoking ban."
About two years ago, the sitting council and an intergovernmental relations committee of city and county officials considered a smoking ban, but the matter never went to a vote.
"I think it''s very important," Mackay explained. "I suffer from asthma, and the only thing that brings it out is smoke. I would like to go sit at Sey''s and talk to friends, but there''s no way I can go into that establishment at all. It is a quality-of-life issue, and quality of life is very important to all of us. It is important to our community."
"People smoke," noted Helen Willis. "They make their choices; they understand the pros and cons of it. All of the people seem pretty content (without an ordinance). Don''t take a person''s civil rights away, a choice to make that decision on our own. We send people to the military to die for our rights, and we''re trying to give them away. The ban, to me, is ridiculous."
"I have serious health issues, and it''s unfortunate I haven''t found that many places in Columbus that don''t allow smoking," said Anne Allen. "I don''t have any problem with people having a right to smoke, as long as it doesn''t interfere with my right to breathe. I''m sure there are lots of smokers who aren''t aware they make someone sick. A smoking ban would be a gift to those of us who have health problems."
"I believe in everybody''s right to smoke," said Marvin Cole, who suffers from pulmonary lung fibrosis. "I just don''t like them infringing it on me. I had a nightclub 10 years ago, and I used to smoke. I didn''t know then what I do now. The lady had a point about civil rights, but she''s got to look at my rights. Smoke in the parking lot. It just shouldn''t be in a restaurant. I smoked three-and-a-half packs a day and I''m ashamed."