No smoking . . . or else
New era in River City life begins Monday with City Council’s controversial ban
By Evan Belanger
Before his death from a heart attack in 1910, American author Mark Twain reportedly said quitting smoking was the easiest thing he had ever done. He knew this because he had done it at least 1,000 times — or so he said.
If he had been born a century later, the renowned social cynic may not have found the motivation to drop the habit. But he definitely would have felt more pressure to do so.
Today, all tobacco products carry a required surgeon general’s warning about their health risks. And on an ever-increasing level, city and state governments are beginning to pass anti-smoking laws.
Decatur will join that group Monday, becoming the seventh and largest Alabama city to enforce a ban on smoking in all public places.
Passed in a 3-2 City Council decision Aug. 6, the ordinance prohibits smoking in all public places, including bars, restaurants, bingo halls, bowling alleys, office buildings, churches and just about any other enclosed public space.
It requires property owners to remove all smoking paraphernalia from their buildings and to post no-smoking signs at each entrance. Those who violate the ordinance — smokers or business owners who continue allowing smoking — face fines of up to $500 per violation.
Supporters say the ordinance will draw more people to local businesses since most Americans — about 80 percent — do not smoke.
But since its passage, the ordinance has become a well-publicized matter of contention for the City Council and property owners on both sides of the issue.
No veto from mayor
Mayor Don Kyle considered vetoing the ordinance for 10 days after it passed. He said it could have a disastrous effect on many of Decatur’s small businesses, especially bars and restaurants.
“A businessman who is not requiring anyone to step through those doors ought to have the right to choose,” he said at one council meeting.
Even after he announced he would not veto the ban, Kyle, who said he supports stronger smoking laws but not to the extent of a full ban, proposed amendments that would allow smoking in special cases.
But the council members who passed the ordinance accused Kyle of grandstanding to gain political support. Council President Billy Jackson, District 1, noted Kyle never formally requested consideration for any amendments.
District 4 City Councilman Ronny Russell, who sponsored the ordinance, said the adverse health effects of second-hand smoke far outweighed any economic concerns.
“Cigarette smoke causes cancer and is a contributor to many other diseases and health conditions,” Russell said. “My health should not be put at risk because you choose to put yours at risk.”
While polls showed most Daily readers support the ban, the debate continued for local business owners, many of whom said the ordinance could force them to shut their doors.
No joy at Geno’s
At Geno’s Pub, Decatur’s oldest bar, owner Philip Maples compared the ordinance to communism.
He said it could close his tiny business, which sells only alcohol and snacks.
Maples is spending about $3,000 to build an enclosed patio onto his business, providing his customers a legal place to smoke.
“At least they’ve got a place where they can go inside a fence to smoke,” he said. “In other words, they won’t be getting arrested for public intoxication or DUI just because they’re sitting in a car smoking a cigarette.”
Happy at City Café
Other business owners say they are looking forward to implementation of the ban.
Steve Allred, owner of City Café said his business went smoke free just weeks before the council announced it would consider the ordinance.
Sales at the café initially dipped when it went smoke-free, but they have since risen to a higher level than before. Allred said he is not worried the ordinance will create more competition in his smoke-free niche in the market since the numbers historically show sales increase for all businesses when a ban is implemented.
“I’m OK with getting the same slice of the pie as long as the pie gets bigger,” he said.
Other criticisms of the ordinance target the city’s efforts to educate the public about it.
The American Cancer Society donated 10,000 signs to the city Monday to be distributed to local business owners for free.
But city officials said they only gave out about 30 the first day. Initial suggestions of holding a question-and-answer session and mailing notifications to business owners citywide had fallen through.
With much of the media attention focused on the ordinance’s impact on bars and restaurants, Chief Financial Officer Gail Busbey said she was not sure everyone understood the ordinance meant almost everyone.
A Daily investigation into the matter found some business owners were still unaware Monday that they had to do anything to comply with the new law.
As of Friday, city officials said they had given out about 1,000 decals. They also added a link to the city’s Web site providing more information on the ordinance.
Prior to posting the link, the city’s only education effort involved posting the ordinance in its entirety on the Web site.
Kyle said he thought there was enough publicity through the newspaper and televised news programs to inform everyone.
Any enclosed space at any place of employment
Common areas at apartment buildings
Health care facilities
Hotel and motel lobbies
Private clubs with employees
Public-transportation facilities, including cabs and buses
Seating areas at outdoor sporting arenas
Within 10 feet of any smoking prohibited area
Private and semi-private rooms at nursing homes
Private clubs with no employees
Private homes and apartments
Hotel and motel rooms designated for smoking
Retail tobacco stores
The law is enforceable by the Decatur Police Department, the Decatur Building Department or the Morgan County Health Department.
Fines range from $1 to $500 per violation.
If you see someone smoking in a public place, inform the owner or manager.
If smoking continues, call the Police Department at 341-4600 or the Health Department at 353-7021.
No-smoking signs must be posted at all entrances.
Smoking paraphernalia must be removed.
Managers or property owners must ask anyone seen smoking to extinguish their tobacco product or leave.
Smokers must not smoke in any prohibited area.
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