Members of the Fayetteville Council of Neighborhoods last week weighed in on a proposal that would ban smoking in all of the city’s bars.
The measure, sponsored by Ward 1 alderwoman Adella Gray, would be a change to the current law which allows smoking in bars. If passed, the proposal would affect about 30 local establishments.
Tyler Clark, project coordinator at Northwest Arkansas Tobacco-Free Coalition, argued in favor of the proposal and said that in order to protect the health of its workers and residents, the city needs a total ban on smoking in bars.
He said 120 people die each year from their own tobacco use in Fayetteville.
“To put that into perspective, homicide, suicide, worksite accidents, automobile accidents, and HIV only killed 69 people in Fayetteville last year,” said Clark. “So we’re losing twice as many people to their own tobacco smoke.”
Clark said his group recently commissioned New York-based Roswell Park Cancer Institute to test the air quality in 29 smoking and nonsmoking bars in Fayetteville.
He said the results show that the bars in Fayetteville that allow smoking have 2.5 times higher pollutant levels than the Environmental Protection Agency’s advised standards.
Wade Ogle, who owns several bars in Fayetteville, said he agrees that smoking is a health hazard, but that he feels the issue is more about personal rights.
“Most of these bars hold private club permits with the state ABC board which means you’re a member or an invited guest,” said Ogle. “You can simply choose for yourself as a 21-and-over adult to enter, work there, or not — just as the business owner can decide whether to allow you entry.”
Ogle recently decided to voluntarily go smoke-free at one of his bars, Crown Pub on Dickson Street. He said he felt the room was too small, with inadequate ventilation during winter months.
“Also, I have a business neighbor who is directly above me who it was affecting,” he said. “I felt it was irresponsible to impose our smoke on those who had not voluntarily entered the business.”
But, Ogle said, a mandatory ban would hurt some of those businesses that currently allow smoking, especially the ones who cater to the smoking crowd.
Clark said a recent University of Arkansas study showed that Southeastern Conference school cities who have banned smoking didn’t see tax revenue losses. In fact, he said Oxford, Miss. showed higher sales of food and beverage at smoke-free establishments.
“You can take as many polls as you’d like,” said Ogle, “but the tale is in the tape.”
Since going smoke-free, he said Crown Pub has seen about a 20 percent decrease in revenue during the week. If smoking were banned at JR’s Lightbulb Club, another bar Ogle owns that he referred to as a “smoker’s haven,” he said he’d probably have to shut it down.
Clark said that in his talks with the owners of Maxine’s Tap Room, a bar that recently went voluntarily smoke-free, the transition has been a good thing. He said he was told that there were people who threatened to never come back to Maxine’s after smoking was banned, but those customers returned “the next day.”
Clark said his group wants to continue the discussion with business owners in Fayetteville. “We want to help everyone through this process,” he said. “We know it’s difficult. We want to find ways to work together.”
Gray’s proposal is expected to head to the Fayetteville City Council sometime this year.