Public comments nearly split during smoking ban discussion

Photo by Todd Gill
Bar owner Mark Wright speaks Tuesday night during the Fayetteville City Council’s second discussion of a proposed smoking ban for all bars in town. Wright owns On The Mark located in Whistle Stop Plaza at 2588 N. Gregg Avenue in Fayetteville.

When the Fayetteville City Council adopted a public workplace smoking ban in 2003, only two types of businesses were exempted: bars and retail tobacco stores.

If a proposed amendment to that ordinance is passed on June 7, Fayetteville bar owners will have about seven months to remove all ashtrays and make adjustments in preparation for a law that would ban smoking inside every bar in town.

Brought forth by Ward 1 Alderwoman Adella Gray, the ordinance is framed as an attempt to protect bar employees and patrons from the dangers of being exposed to secondhand smoke (see page 3 of the proposal packet).

Public Comment, Round 1 – May 3

The first round of public discussion was dominated by those in favor of a smoking ban. In fact, many wore “Smoke Free Makes Good Sense” stickers which were offered at the door by supporters of the expanded ban.

“I think a change like this will uphold Fayetteville’s image as a healthy, progressive place to live and raise our children and truly will keep us moving forward,” said Alderwoman Gray to kick things off at the May 3 council meeting.

Those in favor
The majority of the 18 people who were in favor of the ordinance spoke of the harmful effects of secondhand smoke.

Tyler Clark, NWATFC

“For every 10 people that die from their own tobacco use or from a tobacco-related illness each year, one non-smoker dies, so approximately 12 people will die in Fayetteville because of secondhand smoke,” said Tyler Clark, project coordinator at the Northwest Arkansas Tobacco-Free Coalition. “Policies like this one before you tonight help save lives.”

Joseph Bates, deputy state health officer of the Arkansas Department of Health, said a smoking ban in Fayetteville bars could help push the rest of the state in the same direction.

“If this were to pass, it would have a big impact in Arkansas,” said Bates.

“You’ve been a role model for other cities,” said Bates in reference to the city’s past initiatives to ban smoking. “What you did was very, very important in getting the (Arkansas) Clean Indoor Air Act passed that occurred in 2006.”

Those against
Most of the seven people who spoke against the ordinance said the issue is not about health, but about the right to choose which bars to visit.

“If you don’t want to go in a bar, then don’t go in,” said Matt Marshall, a bartender at Mickey Finn’s on Dickson Street. “It’s a pretty simple choice, I think.”

Fayetteville resident Alex Tripodi said the issue is even more complicated.

“Until we’ve addressed the rights of owners, the discretion of patrons and the restraints on power of the city to legislate, we have not brought up many importances relevant to this matter,” said Tribodi.

Public Comment, Round 2 – May 17

Tribodi’s comments must have left a mark on Alderwoman Gray who ended the first round of discussion by saying, “It’s a public health issue. It’s a public health issue.” She also began the second round with this: “What we’re talking about is purely a health and safety issue and that’s the reason this ordinance is being brought forth.”

Those against
The audience wasn’t having it, though. A total of 29 bar owners, employees and patrons—smokers and non-smokers alike—stood in opposition of the ordinance during round 2. Nearly all said they believed the issue was about the right to choose where to work or patronize.

Alderwomen Gray and Thiel

Matt Marshall returned to the second discussion with petitions signed by 66 bar employees who work at bars that allow smoking and 362 residents who are opposed to the proposed smoking ban.

A host of bar owners spoke in opposition including Angela Leichner (The Beer Keg), Zac Wooden (21st Amendment, Rogers Rec, West End), Wade Ogle (Crown Pub, Dickson Theater, Lightbulb Club), Sarah Varga (Ryleigh’s, Speakeasy), Mark Wright (On The Mark), and Cheryl Wahl (Zooloos).

Wooden, a non-smoker, said a smoking ban would create an advantage for bar owners whose establishments have an outdoor smoking area.

“I wish I could provide a patio at Rogers Rec or 21st Amendment, but I simply can’t,” said Wooden. “There’s no more space.”

Those for
A total of 18 people spoke in favor of the ban including seven who returned to reiterate their opinions from the first night.

However, Tami Clinkingbeard, a Ward 4 resident who spoke on May 3 about the healthcare costs associated with secondhand smoke, returned with a different approach, or rather, a response to the opposition’s argument that the issue is about the right to choose.

“Exactly who’s rights are we talking about?” asked Clinkingbeard. “I believe that I have the right to breathe fresh air and be protected from air that is being contaminated by smoke.”

The numbers

For what it’s worth, here’s a count of public comments made from each side during the first two discussions. As you can see from the graphic, it’s fairly even.

Final reading/discussion

The third and final reading/discussion will take place at the next regular council meeting on June 7. Council members will likely make their final comments before voting on the ordinance change. If passed, the new law will take effect Jan. 2, 2012.