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A smoking ban in Decatur will make ash trays in public obsolete.
Daily photo by Gary Cosby Jr.
A smoking ban in Decatur will make ash trays in public obsolete.

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Smoke-free Decatur
Kyle opts not to veto
smoking ordinance

By Evan Belanger
evanb@decaturdaily.com 340-2442

After more than a week of consideration, Mayor Don Kyle announced Thursday he would not veto the city's new comprehensive smoking ordinance.

Passed in a 3-2 City Council decision Aug. 6, the ordinance bans smoking in all of Decatur's public places, including bars, restaurants and outdoor sporting arenas.

When it takes effect Oct. 1, Decatur will become the largest city in Alabama to ban smoking on such a stringent level.

Kyle made his announcement during a press conference at his sixth-floor office shortly before noon Thursday. He said he was disappointed the council majority refused to negotiate a compromise ordinance, but he couldn't veto the measure knowing children would continue dining in smoke-filled restaurants.

"I feel that a veto would result, at best, with a protracted discussion about the merits of many ordinance types or a refusal to discuss the issue," he said.

To work with businesses

Instead of a veto, Kyle vowed to work with local business owners to pass amendments to the ordinance that could allow smoking in special circumstances.

Kyle also issued thanks to those who submitted input to his office while he was considering the matter. He said most of the comments were "very cordial," including a telephone call from Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino, who advised him to let the ordinance pass.

In the 10 days — the maximum allowed by law — that Kyle took to consider a veto, the smoking ordinance made national news, even warranting mention by Rush Limbaugh on his conservative talk radio show.

"I believe this time of communication was important, because it was the only opportunity for open, public input on this important subject," Kyle said.

In reaction to the announcement, City Council President Billy Jackson, district 1, said he was not surprised by Kyle's decision. He also accused the mayor of grandstanding by taking more time than needed to make his decision.

"I never felt that he was going to veto it, because the numbers were overwhelmingly in support of the ordinance," Jackson said. "I do feel that he was going to play it out as long as he could to make people who were in opposition of the ordinance feel that he was actually looking at this thing with due diligence."

Jackson said the only compromise Kyle proposed to him was a "lesser ordinance" presented in June by District 3 Councilman Gary Hammon. Jackson blocked that ordinance from the agenda since it would have come up at the same meeting as the comprehensive ordinance.

For others who supported the comprehensive smoking ordinance, Kyle's decision marked a victory.

"We're going to celebrate what a great day this is for Decatur. Although there are some who do not think so, it really is," said Joy Rhodes-Watkins, tobacco prevention coordinator for the Alabama Department of Public Health.

Rhodes-Watkins, along with Debbie Davis, a health initiative representative for the American Cancer Society, helped coordinate a group called the Coalition for a Smoke-Free Decatur. Formed in 2004, the group was active in supporting the ordinance.

With a core group of 12 members, the CSFD staged a demonstration and started a public input campaign while Kyle considered a veto.

"A year from now, people will look back and say, 'Wow, what a cool thing they did,' " Davis said, after Kyle's announcement.

But for small-business owners who fought the smoking ordinance, Thursday's decision could mean financial disaster.

At The Brick Deli and Tavern, part owner Lisa Champlin said the new ordinance will probably devastate the business.

"I know for a fact that places in Madison are thrilled with this, because they know they are probably going to get most of our customers," she said. "Initially, I think they will, and then, hopefully, people will learn to drink without a cigarette."

Champlin said she is hopeful the city finds a way to fully enforce the new ordinance, keeping all Decatur businesses on a level playing field.

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