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Smoke gets in their ayes: Ban passes; foes irritated by council's tougher motion


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The Columbus City Council has approved a city smoking ordinance that is stricter than the state law, banning smoking in bars, taverns and private clubs.

The ordinance is the result of three months of wrangling over whether to enact a stronger city ban.

The prohibitions for bars, taverns and private clubs take effect June 1, 2013, giving the establishments a six-month grace period to comply. Otherwise, the ordinance will take effect upon final passage. The ordinance exempts businesses in private residences where all employees reside.

The council approved the tougher ban by a 5-2 vote at Tuesday’s council meeting, which drew about 60 people to the Cal Brand Meeting Room in City Hall.

Councilmen Dascal Bunch, Ryan Brand, Frank Jerome, Tim Shuffett and Jim Lienhoop voted for the ban; Frank Miller and Aaron Hankins opposed it. A second approval of the ordinance by the council is needed for final passage. The next council meeting is Dec. 4.

Its passage came despite impassioned opposition from bar owners, their employees and some individuals.

Columbus Mayor Kristen Brown also expressed her opposition, saying the state law was sufficient considering only 12 establishments in the city still permit smoking.

“I do believe the servers in the community have choices; customers certainly have choices. Smoking is still legal, and I think for those who do smoke, I think it’s nice that they do have a few places to go and enjoy themselves,” Brown said.

The ban stipulates that smokers who violate the order face a $50 fine, and the Columbus Police Department would enforce the ordinance.

Support

Anti-smoking proponents were thrilled with the passage of the stricter ban because of the protection it will give employees from second-hand smoke indoors.

“We are very pleased that we got a 5-2 (majority) for a comprehensive ordinance, which was the goal from the beginning,” said Stephanie Truly, head of the county’s Tobacco Action Awareness Team.

Beth Morris, director of community health partnerships for Columbus Regional Health and Healthy Communities, said she applauded the council for their thought and careful consideration.

“When it really came down to making a decision, they looked at the evidence and what was best for the population of Columbus and voted accordingly,” Morris said.

During the public comment period prior to the vote, Dr. Tom Sonderman, chief medical officer at Columbus Regional Hospital, implored the council to consider the health of the workers.

Surprise support for the ordinance came from Debbie Kramer, a former owner of a downtown restaurant who fought the council’s original smoking ordinance seven years ago.

“Going non-smoking did not hurt my business. ... People go to your bars or your restaurants or your private (club) because they like the food, they like the service,” she said during the meeting.

Kramer said she smokes two packs of cigarettes daily, but chooses to dine at non-smoking establishments so she can enjoy her meal.

Opposition

Some bar owners said after the vote that they wonder whether they’ll be able to stay in business after going smoke-free, and are worried about losing customers.

“I’ll lose $300 to $400 a day on the lunch crowd. And for the people not being able to come in and smoke, you take that times 31 days and see what that adds up to,” said Jim Preble, owner of Ziggie’s Pub and Eatery, 3029 N. National Road.

“I’ve still got five years on my lease, and I can’t get out of it. I don’t know how I’m going to pay the bills.”

Amy Gilham, co-owner of the Cozy Lounge, 3870 25th St., described the vote as a “strike on freedom.”

She said the grace period until June 1 was not enough time to help because two years remain on the bar’s lease.

“This will not take us to the end of the lease. And when our business drops off, somehow we have to come up with the money to pay the rent, which will probably be the employees’ jobs,” Gilham said. “And then, after that, it will probably result in a closed sign.”

Stephanie Spencer, a full-time waitress and bartender at Scores Sports Bar & Grill, 3539 Two Mile House Road, said she worries how the change will affect her ability to earn income, continue to put herself through nursing school and pay her home mortgage.

“The problem with you taking away smoking from my customers is that then they won’t come, and then my sales go down so my boss’ business suffers, my tip business suffers,” she said.

Council comments

Only three of the seven council members shared their thoughts before the vote.

Jerome stated that the idea of a compromise, considered briefly a few weeks earlier, became difficult because of demands that both sides wanted.

But he noted that the council didn’t seek a total city smoking ban.

“We haven’t outlawed (outdoor dining areas). We didn’t make it two months, (for a grace period) like they did in Franklin; we made it six months so there is plenty of time for a business plan to change,”

Jerome said.

“We’ve listened and we’ve tried to do (a compromise). This (a stricter ban) should have been done seven years ago.”

Miller and Hankins opposed the ban because they said it infringes people’s freedoms.

“There’s a bigger addiction going on in our country that’s a bigger threat to our community and country, and that’s the addiction of politicians at every level of government stealing away our freedoms and our liberty,” Hankins said.

Miller held in his right hand a small red book that contained all the words of the United States Constitution as he shared his stance.

“It’s true that it was said here that smoking is not a right. It’s not a right, but freedom itself is a fundamental human right.”

As Miller closed his comments, he asked people who owned and worked at bars to stand up. About 10 did.

“If this ordinance goes through, please patronize these people and help them keep their businesses open,” he told the crowd.

The council moved forward with a stricter ban even though a similar measure in Indianapolis is facing a legal challenge.

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