City to review changes to smoking ban

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By Donna Thornton/News Editor

Following a public hearing on proposed changes to the City of Gadsden’s existing smoking ban, council members plan to review the changes in light of comments made and questions raised about its increased restrictions aimed at guarding against second-hand smoke.
The proposed law would ban smoking in all enclosed public places within the City of Gadsden, on all public transportation, in all enclosed areas of places of employment, and in a many public outdoor settings.
Cigar bars and retail tobacco stores would be exempt.
A number of people – including owners of several local bars – spoke against the ban, which would outlaw smoking in their businesses and within 20 feet of it.
Chestnut Station owner Angela Sauls said the ordinance is extreme and will hurt local businesses.
“If this ban is approved there will definitely be more empty buildings downtown,” she said.
If it is designed to protect employees in businesses where smoking is allowed, Sauls questioned, why is it right to exclude “cigar bars” and similar tobacco product retailers?
David Lawson said the council seems to be approaching the smoking ban in a different manner than they did the Sunday liquor sales questions.
While the council favored “letting the people decide” on Sunday sales, it wants to make the decision on smoking.
“The governing body is putting itself in some form of hypocrisy,” Lawson said.
Plumbers Pub owner James Elliott estimated the ban could cost him 40 percent of his business.
All the clubs in question require people to be over 21 years of age to enter, he said.
“People should have the right to do what they want,” Elliott said. “I think the one y’all had in 2007 is good enough.” The smoking ordinance Elliott referred to required restaurants to decide to be completely smoke-free or not. It did away with the concept of a “smoking section” in Gadsden eateries.
“I think its really pushing the limit on our rights and our choices,” Elliott said of the new proposal.
Robin Townsend questioned why the ban would allow smoking within seven feet of the trolley, but state smokers must be 20 feet from a bar.
“I have to take a stand. You’re telling me how I have to police my business,” Townsend said. “Our households are next. That’s the only place left.” She said after the 2007 ban, several businesses added patios where smoke would be allowed. Outlawing smoking on those patios will make that a wasted investment, she said.
There were a number of proponents also, from the American Cancer Society and the America Lung Association, and from the local business community.
Janice Sherrill, owner of Remona’s Boutique in downtown Gadsden said smokers outside the business leave their cigarette butts and the scent of their smoke behind. Even if smokers are outside her business, she said, the smoke comes under the door and the smell gets into the clothing she sells.
“If I say anything to (smokers) they say ‘I’m on a city street,’” Sherrill said, and she has no recourse.
She supported the more restrictive ban.
Camela Aaron spoke on behalf of the Etowah Smoke-Free Coalition said it was not an issue of who can and can’t smoke, it is a questions of exposing people who do not smoke to second-hand smoke.
“Health is a priority to me,” she said, and many people who’ve never smoked have health issues related to exposure to others’ smoking.
Martha Butcher spoke of being diagnosed with COPD and Sarcoidosis at age 25 after being exposed to second-hand smoke through family members. At age 55, she lost her left lung.
“I have grandchildren,” Butcher said. “I don’t want them to go through the health issues I have.”
Kathy Banks said studies show 15 percent of the harmful substances in cigarettes to to smokers while 85 percent go to the people breathing near them.
“There are public places I can’t go,” Banks said, because smoking is allowed there.
Council member Robert Avery said he was concerned about some of the discrepancies critics of the ban mentioned. He suggested that the ordinance be reconsidered by the committee that proposed it.
Other council members expressed concerns about the extent of the ban as well.

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