The days of smoke-filled bars are coming to an end in Columbus.
During a fiery City Council meeting Tuesday, council members voted 4-2 to solidify a preliminary decision from two weeks ago that goes beyond the ban the state put into effect July 1.
Council members Aaron Hankins and Frank Miller cast the only nay votes, as they did during the last vote in late November. Tim Shuffett, who voted yes last time, was absent.
“This puts Columbus on the forefront of progress,” said Stephanie Truly, head of the county’s Tobacco Action Awareness Team. “We’re one of the first counties in the state to adopt a stronger law than what the state has adopted.”
The state law exempts bars, taverns and private clubs and allows patrons and employees to keep puffing away. But the ban approved locally includes those businesses, which means they must snuff out their smokes after a six-month grace period.
Some people said afterward that the city’s ban is a victory for Columbus’ citizens. Others said it is a violation of personal freedom.
But it was an exchange between Hankins and Tobacco Action Awareness Team member Tom Talbert immediately after the vote that briefly brought tensions to a near boiling point.
Truly assured the bar and private club owners in the audience that she and her team would help them through the six-month transition so the owners would be in a good position by the time the ordinance takes effect June 1.
However, Hankins scolded Truly for having the nerve to suggest that she would help the very people that she is hurting.
That prompted Talbert to stand up in defense of Truly, suggesting that Hankins owed her an apology. But Hankins only reiterated his belief that the ban will hurt business owners’ livelihood.
The City Council began looking into the possibility of strengthening the city’s anti-smoking ordinance from February 2006 after the state passed a first-time ban of its own.
Council members seemed inclined at first to drop the city ban in favor of the state version.
However, the majority decided a more inclusive ban was in order after hearing three months of debate regarding secondhand smoke, the right to choose one’s business model and the possible economic effects a stronger ordinance would have on those businesses.
The local ordinance now will exempt only those businesses that occupy private residences where all employees reside.
Mayor Kristen Brown, going against the council, maintained again Tuesday that passing a ban stronger than the state’s was unnecessary because only 12 establishments — five private clubs and seven bars — still permit smoking here.
Debra Richard, tobacco cessation facilitator for Healthy Communities, whose birthday was Tuesday, said after Tuesday’s meeting that the council’s decision was the perfect present.
She said she is proud of Columbus for leading the statewide shift toward eliminating smoking from public places.
Randy Burgmeier, who has been a bartender for two years at Scores Sports Bar & Grill, said he is sure that forcing bars to give up smoking will make many of his regular customers leave. He said he counts on those people’s business to allow him to make a living for his family.
He said he saw nothing he could do at this point except to “ride it out” at his current place of employment and hope for the best.
Stephanie Spencer, a full-time waitress and bartender at Scores who has expressed concerns about the ban, nevertheless shook the City Council members’ hands after the vote and invited them to lunch at Scores when the ban takes effect.
“It’s been a long road,” Truly said. “But I think Columbus made the right decision.”