Smoking ban 2011: How it all went down

Photo by Todd Gill
The Fayetteville City Council chambers were full Tuesday night during the final meeting to decide on a proposed expansion of the city’s smoking ban.

After listening to four and a half hours of public comment, the eight members of the City Council were finally able to weigh in and vote on a proposal to ban smoking in all Fayetteville bars.

And that was just one of the meetings where public discussion was heard.

Although a majority of aldermen voted in favor of the amendment, our prediction that the measure would fail to receive the six necessary votes to pass turned out to be true.

In all, the chamber podium was visited over 100 times by Fayetteville residents throughout the proposal’s three readings.

Much like at the first two meetings, public comment was nearly split with 26 people speaking in favor of the ban and 21 speaking against it.

Also in line with the previous meetings, the majority of those in favor argued that it was a health issue. Those against, continued to demand that it was an issue of personal choice.

Of course, the decision was ultimately up to the council.

If those in favor of an expanded smoking ban aren’t willing to try again with a possible few new aldermen in early 2013, they do have the option of gathering enough signatures to put the issue to a public vote in November 2012.

For now, here’s a brief recap of what each council member said before casting their final vote.

Adella Gray

Ward 1, Position 1
Vote: Yes

“We know that we have bartenders and musicians who are spending lots of hours inside bars,” said Gray. “We’ve also heard tonight that no amount of secondhand smoke is harmless. So I’m really troubled about why we feel we’re going to protect the workplace of everyone in our city, but we’re not going to protect workers in bars.”

She said she thought it was a big mistake to overlook the fact that many bar employees do not have insurance because of the economic impact it could have on those residents of Fayetteville who do have insurance. “If we have insurance, we’re paying for the person who does not have insurance for their health treatment,” she said.

“Our responsibility as policy makers for the citizens of Fayetteville is to make sure that they have a healthy workplace.”

Brenda Thiel

Ward 1, Position 2
Vote: Yes

Thiel said she believes smoking bans can have a more direct effect. She recalled a previous Fayetteville ordinance that banned smoking in places like grocery stores and doctors offices and said, “I think that ban encouraged a lot of people at that time to quit smoking, or to never start smoking.”

And while she said she was sympathetic to the possibility that some businesses could suffer from a smoking ban, she felt like the council does have the authority and responsible to regulate public safety.

“I think the good things about this outweigh the negative,” she said.

Mark Kinion

Ward 2, Position 1
Vote: No

Alderman Kinion said that throughout his time working for the American Lung Association, he developed a belief that education, not legislation, was the key to keeping people from smoking.

“We live in a community that prides itself in being very well educated,” said Kinion, “and if you’re very well educated, then you’re going to make wiser choices.”

“But for me to legislate someone’s choices, I’m going to find that very hard.”

Kinion said he went into 18 different bars over the last six weeks and without identifying himself, talked to employees about the issue.

“I didn’t have one employee say, ‘The city ought to stop smoking in this bar’,” said Kinion. “In fact, emphatically, all of them said ‘I chose to work here and this is a choice for me’.”

Matthew Petty

Ward 2, Position 2
Vote: Yes

Alderman Petty began by reiterating his previously stated stance that indoor secondhand smoke was an “exceptional” danger.

He said while he agrees with Alderman Kinion’s notion that education is the best way to address the issue, he believes legislation can play a strong role in that process.

“There is nothing that provides more education than the experience of every bar you go to, of the social norm becoming, and of every person knowing that it is wrong to smoke indoors,” said Petty.

“That is an educated measure that can only happen through public policy and the scale of that cannot be overstated.”

Justin Tennant

Ward 3, Position 1
Vote: No

“The selfish part of me wants this to pass,” began Tennant, adding that he doesn’t smoke and never has.

“I don’t like to be around smoke and I fully understand that people who smoke are making a bad decision for their life,” he said.

He said although he will, on occasion, go to a smoky bar in Fayetteville, he fully understands the consequences of such a decision.

“As government, I believe we should try to change people’s minds on something like this that we all believe is dangerous, but saying that you need protection from your own choices and decisions is, to me, just wrong.”

Bobby Ferrell

Ward 3, Position 2
Vote: No

“If you ever see me vote to remove an individual liberty,” said Ferrell, “Please get me a physician.”

“I smoke, I’ve smoked for years and I’m addicted,” said Ferrell, “but I still think that I have the right to smoke.”

Ferrell said he felt like a ban would have a negative impact on local businesses and, in turn, local jobs and that he didn’t believe the “few sanctuary bars” which still allowed smoking were something the council should regulate.

“I won’t vote to knock these jobs down.”

Rhonda Adams

Ward 4, Position 1
Vote: Yes

One reason why Adams said she’d be voting for the amendment was because she felt like the current law was a form of discrimination.

“One of the people I work with said to me ‘I have cystic fibrosis and I can’t go to events in town where smoking exists’,” she said. “I think that’s unfair.”

Adams said she and many of her constituents are very passionate about the health of Fayetteville employees. In fact, she said she has had people in Ward 4 tell her they think she should vote ‘no’ on the issue because it doesn’t go far enough.

“Those people are telling me it needs to include patios and sidewalks and parks,” said Adams. “But we’re not doing that yet.”

Sarah Lewis

Ward 4, Position 2
Vote: Yes

Alderwoman Lewis had a few different reasons for why she was in support of the amendment.

“In this case,” said Lewis, “you have a situation where, in a public space, which is any private or public building, the actions of a person are creating a nuisance to others. And the city is completely in its space to abate nuisances.”

She said she also felt like allowing smoking in bars minimizes people’s options in a job search.

“When you have an economic situation where you have fewer jobs and then you take into account if I’m pregnant or asthmatic or have MS, all of a sudden my options are minimized considerably,” said Lewis. “I think everyone should have open choices for the jobs that are available.”

“As a council member, we have to consider all of the citizens and weight the rights of one and the rights of the other,” she said. “If the action of one is affecting another, that’s where you say, ‘It’s not really OK.’ And that’s what freedom is.”