Smoking issue still a hot topic at meetings
by David Lazenby
Dec 22, 2011 | 2356 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A proponent of an amendment to allow Jasper bars to be exempt from the city’s new smoking ban on Tuesday challenged the methodology used by Mayor Sonny Posey to determine the extent that the smoking ordinance passed by the City Council in October has affected the income of local taverns.

Issue activist Kathy Russell said Posey’s comparison of city nightclubs’ earnings documents from October 2010 to those of this past October during a recent City Council work session showed no proof of ill effects of the smoking ban because the effects did not yet exist since the new law was not being strictly enforced until the end of the month.

“The October taxes, in real truth, would only have had a week or two of nonsmoking in businesses. And people were just at that particular time learning there was no smoking in a place they frequented,” she said. Russell added it was after authorities began to take measures to ensure the new law was being followed that businesses like Legg’s Hideaway and The Midnight Special started losing customers.

Posey said more up-to-date numbers that were not available during Tuesday’s Council meeting, may offer a more accurate glimpse at the effects of the smoking ban on Jasper bars’ business.

Russell and others who have proposed the exemption during past Council meetings and work sessions point out that no minors are allowed in these lounges.

“You have to be 21-or-over to go in these places. You have to make a conscious decision as an adult,” she said. “I think everybody ought to have the right to make that.”

She also pointed out her opinion that the ban of cigarette smoking inside all indoor public facilities and private businesses within Jasper is a violation of the business owners’ rights. “I really don’t think this Council has any business in it.”

Councilor Lee Swann, one of two city officials who voted against the ordinance, said the best solution is to allow all city businesses to be either smoking or non-smoking facilities. He said allowing one sector of businesses to be exempt would be followed by other area businesses seeking the same exemption.

Whoever is right next to the line, where ever you draw it, whoever is right next to the line is going to be down here at the next meeting wanting the line to be drawn around them City Attorney Russ Robertson said while paraphrasing Swann’s concern.

The Council decided to treat Tuesday’s discussion as an official introduction and allow an amendment regarding proposed alterations to the smoking ban to be written up by Robertson after the Council has at least one work session prior to it being voted on at a future City Council meeting.

Councilor Johnny Rollins, the other city official who voted against the smoking ordinance on Oct. 4, said the city should look at the ordinances of other Alabama cities with smoking bans that have made “allowances.”

“The majority of those cities that have smoking ordinances have made concessions,” said Rollins, who added he considers the bans “an erosion of citizen’s rights.”

Police officer Tim Martin said during recent inspections of three area taverns he found that two of them had made accommodations for patrons who smoke so they will have a comfortable place to light up.

“I haven’t had any complaints from the majority of bar owners in this town,” Martin said. “They have put heaters out there in those enclosures for their clientele.”