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Tenants liable under smoking law

By Evan Belanger
evanb@decaturdaily.com · 340-2442

Business tenants beware.

Decatur’s comprehensive smoking ordinance holds tenants responsible for violations and not property owners as does the city’s weed, junk and litter ordinance.

That means a judge can fine business owners and employers, regardless of whether they own the building they operate from, up to $500 a day for violating the new ordinance.

The City Council passed the ordinance on a 3-2 vote Aug. 6. The ordinance prohibits smoking in all of Decatur’s public places, including all places of employment, private offices, restaurants and bars.

It takes effect Oct. 1.

City attorney Herman Marks Jr., who wrote the ordinance, said compliance with Decatur’s new smoking law should be simple for almost everyone.

“You just don’t smoke in public places,” he said. “That’s the bottom line.”

But for employers and business owners, compliance means more than stepping outside to light up.

According to the ordinance, they must also post a conspicuous no-smoking sign at every entrance and in every area where smoking is not allowed.

Signs can either have the words “No smoking” printed on them or the international symbol for no smoking, which consists of a burning cigarette enclosed in red circle with a red bar across it.

The ordinance also requires business owners and managers to verbally request anyone seen smoking in a prohibited area to stop. Ashtrays and smoking paraphernalia must be removed before the Oct. 1 deadline.

As to enforcement, Marks said, he doesn’t expect to see squads of city employees roaming the streets and “sniffing-out” potential violators anytime soon.

Instead, he said, enforcement will rely mostly on complaints from the public.

“It’s just like running a red light,” he said. “It’s got to be self-enforced.”

The City Building Department will check signage compliance, and complaints will be taken by the police, fire and health departments, according to the ordinance.

The ordinance clearly states how to comply. Violation is not so clear.

Marks said the ordinance makes it obvious that smoking is not allowed in Decatur’s public places, but if someone chooses to violate the ordinance, is the mere smell of tobacco enough to issue a ticket?

He did not know if simply smelling smoke would be enough to issue a ticket, but it could lead to further investigation.

“I’m not going to say what is enough and what isn’t enough to fine someone, because it’s up to the people to abide by the law,” Marks said.

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