Comply by Oct. 1 or face fine
Decatur smoking ordinance generates questions from businesses
By Evan Belanger
Decatur’s new comprehensive smoking ordinance is generating a multitude of questions from business owners and local residents.
Passed in a 3-2 City Council decision Aug. 6, the ordinance bans smoking in all public places, including bars, restaurants and outdoor sporting arenas.
After more than a week of consideration, Mayor Don Kyle announced Thursday he would not veto the ordinance, which he originally expressed reservations about.
$500 fines per day
That means Decatur business owners have until Oct. 1 to comply or face up to $500 in fines per day.
According to the ordinance, compliance means the business owners must soon post no-smoking signs at every entrance and in every area where smoking is prohibited. They must also remove ashtrays and smoking paraphernalia from their businesses and verbally request that smokers not light up if they see a violator.
But while compliance may seem self-explanatory, the ordinance does make a few exceptions that are leading to questions from the public.
For example, smoking is allowed on outdoor patios at restaurants and bars as long as the smoker is not within 10 feet of the building, but the law allows the business owner to ban smoking outdoors.
Other exemptions in the ordinance include private clubs with no employees, private rooms at nursing homes and dedicated tobacco retail stores.
The law also bans smoking in all places of employment, even those that do not regularly serve the public.
“There’s going to be a lot of questions, and that’s OK. That’s why we’re trying to help educate people before it takes effect,” said city attorney Herman Marks, who wrote the ordinance.
Marks said possible education solutions could include a large-scale question-and-answer session to which business owners will be invited and a brochure to be mailed to all business owners.
“The idea is to help people comply with it, not to catch someone unaware,” he said.
But even with Marks and other city officials fully involved in answering questions, enforcement of the law was still in its infantile phase on Friday.
Marks and Kyle both said the success of the ordinance will rely much on complaints from the public.
“It’s going to require citizen input, much like our weeds, litter and junk ordinance,” Kyle said. “It’s also going to rely on self-discipline from the business owners.”
Specific governmental enforcement strategies in the ordinance call for the police, fire and health departments to handle complaints. But it was not clear Friday whether all three departments had enough staff or the authority to take on the task.
Police Chief Ken Collier said enforcing the ordinance will affect his department’s manpower, but the police will manage.
The Building Department will handle standard inspections for compliance during other routine building inspections, according to the ordinance.
District 2 City Councilman David Bolding said the new ordinance should be easier to enforce than the old one because inspectors no longer have to deal with designated smoking areas.
“Before, you actually had to go outside and check the unit,” he said. “I mean you almost had to check all the ducting.”
Where smoking is prohibited
Buildings and vehicles owned, leased or controlled by the city of Decatur.
Enclosed spaces frequented by the public, including bars, restaurants and retail establishments.
Enclosed spaces at any place of employment, including private offices and employee lounges.
Outdoor seating areas and enclosed spaces at sporting fields or arenas.
Any common area in an apartment building, nursing home or trailer park, including hallways, lobbies and laundry facilities.
Private clubs when they are being used for a function to which the public is invited.
Bingo facilities when a bingo game is in progress.
Licensed child-care and adult-care facilities.
Any unenclosed area within 10 feet of any smoking-prohibited area.
Where smoking is allowed
Private residences, except when used for licensed child or adult care.
Hotel and motel rooms that are on designated smoking floors.
Restaurants, hotel and motel conference rooms when used for private events, as long as smoke cannot drift into areas where smoking is prohibited.
Private and semi-private rooms at nursing homes and long-term care facilities.
Dedicated tobacco stores, except at the cash register and in line, as long as smoke cannot drift into other areas where smoking is prohibited.
Private clubs that have no employees, except when used for a function to which the public is allowed.
How to comply
Business owners are responsible for posting no-smoking signs at every entrance and in every place where smoking is prohibited.
All ashtrays and other smoking paraphernalia must be removed from places where smoking is prohibited.
The owner must request that any person seen smoking in a smoke-prohibited area stop.
Hotel and motel owners cannot designate more than 25 percent of their rooms as smoking-allowed.
Business owners who allow smoking in a prohibited area, fail to post signage forbidding smoking or fail to remove smoking paraphernalia will be subject to fines from $1 to $500 for each day the offense was allowed.
Patrons who refuse to stop smoking when asked by the business owner or his representative will be subject to the same fines per violation.
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