Smoking Ban

Published 12:00 am Friday, March 19, 2010

Ronald Watkins of Philadelphia, Miss. lights up outside the KFC in Batesville after enjoying a meal at the restaurant. Per new city rules, he was standing away from the front entrance, though he said he was unaware of the new ordinance requiring a “reasonable distance.” The Panolian photo by Billy Davis

Smokers say rights wronged by smoking ban

By Billy Davis

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Horace Wolfe, 72, knows he has a nasty habit. The cigarettes he prefers, Pall Malls, are “polluting my body and probably just might kill me one day,” he confesses.

He goes through a pack and a half a day, though he admits he might light up more than that.  

It’s a habit that he hopes his grandchildren avoid.

“But I don’t want to hide like a criminal,” he told a reporter this week when he commented on Batesville’s smoking ban that took effect March 4.

The Batesville Board of Aldermen voted 4-1 in February to enact the smoking ban, which affects nearly all private businesses in the city. Only tobacco shops are exempted.

Smoking is permitted outside a business if the smoker is located a  “reasonable distance” from the main entrance, according to the ordinance.

The city law was passed without defining “reasonable distance,” however, and Mayor Jerry Autrey said he has been questioned about the vague rule.

“Smokers need to stand far enough way so the smoke won’t be close to the door,” the mayor explained. “You just need to be practical and use your head.”

Citing the new city rules, Wolfe questioned where he and other Lions Club members must stand outside their building. He said smoking was already prohibited inside the club before the ordinance passed, but smokers are unsure where to light up to abide by the city’s new rules.

Most smokers now congregate under a pavilion that is attached to the Lions Club building, he said.

Batesville’s no-smoking ordinance includes an allowance for a structure that is attached to a building, with stated requirements for at least a partial covering and enclosed walls. But the ordinance specifically cites an allowance only for restaurants, since they often include an outside dining area.

Such an allowance would benefit restaurant owner and city Alderman Stan Harrison, who voted in favor of the smoking ban.

Harrison acknowledged Wednesday, when contacted by The Panolian, that he is considering adding a smoking section to the east side of Café Ole, which is now a parking lot.   

Harrison cited the harmful effects of second-hand smoke as a main reason aldermen voted in favor of the smoking ban. In fact, the ordinance is prefaced with three and one-half pages of frightening data, from the National Cancer Institute among others, which describes the dangers of second-hand smoke.  

City leaders relied on a draft ordinance provided by the Miss. Department of Health when they were readying the new city law.

Along with the draft came a $2,500 grant from the Department of Health, meant to offset the cost of implementing the ordinance.

Harrison cited public demand for smoke-free facilities as a second reason the ordinance was drafted and approved.  

As a restaurant owner, Harrison said he has fielded numerous complaints from customers about the allowance of smoking in Café Ole. The smoking section was limited to a new addition that includes a bar, where even air filtration equipment failed to siphon the smoke, he said.

“It was $3,000 worth of equipment and it didn’t work,” Harrison said. “When people left, they still smelled like smoke.”

Asked why as the business owner he did not ban smoking at the restaurant, Harrison said most businesses, especially restaurants, allow smoking if it’s legal to do so.   

“That’s a fair question, maybe, but generally it’s not done in most cities,” he said.

“A lot of (restaurants) didn’t want smoking but they wanted the city to do it,” explained Mayor Autrey.

The mayor, citing an example, said management from the Cracker Barrel Restaurant asked for a smoking ban in a letter sent to the City of Batesville.

Cracker Barrel allowed smoking in the west section of its restaurant, but problems with drifting smoke were well known to non-smoking customers.

Like Wolfe, fellow Pall Mall smoker Mike Roberts Sr., 48, said he understands the harmful effects of smoking, including second-hand smoke. He said he is also aware that non-smokers are subjected to drifting smoke in a store or restaurant, adding that he refrains from smoking around people who don’t.

But Roberts said he wants others to see the “big picture,” which he described as a gradual erosion of individual rights.

“Today it’s smokers. Tomorrow it will be someone telling you what to eat,” Roberts said.

Batesville Alderman Bill Dugger, the lone “nay” vote, seemed to echo that opinion when he asked other aldermen, seemingly half-jokingly, if they planned to ban perfume next.

In fact, the City of Detroit has banned city workers from wearing perfume and other scented products after a city planner complained that a co-worker’s perfume prevented her from performing her work.

The city planner filed a complaint under the Americans with Disabilities Act and was awarded $100,000 in a settlement, according to press reports.  

Citing his own example, Roberts pointed to a ban on home-based Bible studies in Gilbert, Arizona, where a city ordinance bans “religious assembly” in private homes.

The ordinance was intended to alleviate traffic problems in residential areas, but the code singled out only religious meetings. City government in Gilbert has rescinded the ban amid public outcry.

Hence Roberts’ belief that a business in Batesville, without government input, should decide whether to allow smoking at their establishments.

“I think it should be the call of the business owner,” Roberts said. “Let the owner decide what can or can’t happen inside the business he pays taxes on.”

“We have not told anybody they can’t smoke,” said Harrison. “All we’ve said is you have to be considerate of other people.”

“All the smokers who are complaining about this – they’ll understand it one day when the doctor tells them to stop smoking or lose their life,” Harrison added.  

Along with Harrison, aldermen Eddie Nabors, Teddy Morrow and Ted Stewart voted in favor of the smoking ban.

“Without some rules and regulations non-smokers don’t really have a say-so,” said Nabors, who was the first Batesville alderman to publicly mention a smoking ban.

“You can’t write an ordinance against lung cancer and heart disease but you can try to limit second-hand smoke,” he added.