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1 week
left to light up

Decatur smoking
ban takes effect Oct. 1

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

In just one week, local business owners will discard ashtrays and post no-smoking signs at their entrances.

Smokers across the city will look to the great outdoors for a place to light up or face up to $500 in fines for each violation. And business owners will face the same fines if they allow smoking in their establishments.

On Oct. 1, Decatur will become the largest Alabama city to ban smoking in all public places, including bars, restaurants, outdoor sporting arenas, businesses with employees and enclosed spaces frequented by the public. Decatur is just the seventh city in Alabama to do so.

Passed on a 3-2 City Council vote Aug. 6, the ordinance has been a continuing source controversy for the three-man majority and Mayor Don Kyle.

Expressing concerns about the ordinance’s potential impact on local businesses, Kyle considered vetoing the ordinance for 10 days after it passed. He then suggested amending it to allow smoking in some circumstances, but it seems the ban will take effect untouched.

“You just don’t smoke in public places. That’s the bottom line,” said city attorney Herman Marks Jr. when interpreting the ordinance for The Daily.

To rely on complaints

Marks, who was kept busy answering questions from local business owners and concerned residents after the ordinance passed, said enforcement will rely mostly on complaints from the public.

According to the ordinance, the Building Department will check for signage compliance during regularly scheduled inspections, and the police, fire and health departments will field complaints.

But Marks said he does not envision squads of city employees roaming the streets, sniffing for smoke.

To aid in the enforcement effort, the city is providing free no-smoking decals, available at the city clerk’s office in City Hall.

Paid for with grant money through the American Cancer Society, about 10,000 decals are available for local business owners or anyone else who needs a sign to comply with the ordinance.

“It’s a very simple way for us to say we’re not just here to get the ordinance passed. We’re here to help businesses implement it, too,” said Debbie Davis, a spokeswoman for the ACS.

The ACS and an organization called Citizens for a Smoke Free Decatur supported the ordinance from conception to fruition. Members staged a rally at City Hall and started petitions to support it while Kyle considered using his veto power to stop it.

“The American Cancer Society commends Mayor Don Kyle and the Decatur City Council for taking action to protect the health and work force of its community,” said ACS government-relations director Frieda Posey after Kyle announced he would not veto the measure.

But not all are pleased with the ordinance.

Philip Maples, owner of Geno’s Pub on Sixth Avenue Southeast, said the law could put Decatur’s oldest bar out of business.

Opened about 21 years ago, when Decatur first voted in alcohol sales, Geno’s sells alcohol and small snack foods. Maples said a ban on smoking could entice his regular customers — most of whom smoke — to stay home.

In preparation for the ban, Maples built a fenced-in patio at his bar to provide an outdoor space for smokers, but he said the city might make him remove it since it may be too close to the road.

“That’s communism at its best, when three people can tell us what to do without a vote of the people,” he said.

According to the ordinance, smoking is allowed in patio areas but not within 10 feet of any door or window.

The ordinance also makes an exception for dedicated tobacco retail stores as long as the smoker is not waiting in line.

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