Linda Cooperstock said she’s looking forward to the day when Columbia has smoke-free restaurants. Her wish may soon become reality if the early results of an ongoing survey are an indication of things to come. So far the survey shows 50 restaurants have already voluntarily banned smoking.
Cooperstock, co-director of the Boone County Coalition for Tobacco Concerns and a member of the Board of Health, is in charge of the survey that is asking the owners of about 300 local restaurants and bars whether they would consider going smoke-free.
The survey, which is expected to be completed within a few weeks, is also designed to reveal how much restaurant owners and managers know about the dangers of second-hand smoke and what precautions they are taking for workers and customers.
The results will be given to the Columbia/Boone County Board of Health, which has been discussing whether to recommend additional restrictions on smoking to the Columbia City Council. The Board of Health makes recommendations to the Columbia/Boone County Department of Health.
More than 50 restaurants in Columbia — about one-third of the 152 restaurants and bars that had responded to the telephone survey as of last week — reported that they’re already smoke-free.
The early results surprised Chris Coffman, public health planner for the Columbia/Boone County Department of Health and a member of the Coalition for Tobacco Concerns.
“I just didn’t think that there were that many,” Coffman said.
Coffman said Columbia is following in the footsteps of Maryville. Seventy percent of restaurants in the northwest Missouri city had adopted nonsmoking policies by the time the city imposed its ban last year.
Cooperstock said the health board will discuss the survey results and possibly recommend an updated smoking ordinance. She said the possibilities include an outright ban or a more restrictive ordinance than the current version.
City law requires all restaurants that seat more than 50 people to have a designated nonsmoking area. Under state law, the maximum size of a designated smoking section cannot exceed 30 percent of the total restaurant area and the nonsmoking area must be large enough to accommodate the demand for people wanting to be seated in a nonsmoking section.
In June, Maryville, home of Northwest Missouri State University, became the only city in Missouri to completely ban smoking in restaurants, according to the American Nonsmokers’ Rights Foundation. In December, Jefferson City approved an ordinance that bans smoking in restaurants but makes exceptions for those that receive half of their revenues from alcohol sales or those with enclosed smoking sections or separate heating and cooling ventilation systems and airlocks. The ordinance will take effect in June.
In addition, seven states have also made smoking in restaurants illegal, according to the foundation.
A 2003 survey conducted by the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services found Boone County residents were evenly divided on whether smoking should be allowed in indoor dining areas of restaurants. Of 322 local residents surveyed, 49.3 percent said smoking should not be allowed at all, 49.4 percent said smoking should be allowed in some areas and 1.2 percent said people should be able to light up in all areas.
In 2001, Jack’s Gourmet Restaurant was one of the first Columbia restaurants to become smoke-free. Ken Applegate, owner of Jack’s, said he remembers going home every night smelling like cigarette smoke.
Applegate said he made this decision for several reasons: He lost his sister and numerous friends to cancer caused by smoking, and he wanted to make his establishment a more “pleasant work environment.” He said he thought that a “progressive” city, such as Columbia, would soon follow suit.
Becoming a nonsmoking establishment has not hurt business, Applegate said, and perhaps even helped it. He said he’s noticed that some of the regulars who smoked no longer frequent the restaurant, but more families do.
John Sevcik, owner of CJ’s Restaurant on Broadway supports a smoking ban but won’t enact one unless it’s mandatory for all restaurants.
“Lots of people wouldn’t come if my restaurant was nonsmoking and other restaurants weren’t,” he said. “Being an ex-smoker myself, I know it’s dangerous and unhealthy.”
Even though Bellacino’s Pizza and Grindersis already smoke-free, owner Chris Stuebben does not believe the city should ban smoking in restaurants.
“I wouldn’t want the city to tell me to make my restaurant smoke-free,” Stuebben said. “They don’t have the right to tell me. They aren’t the ones that invested all this money in it, I am. If my customers want to smoke, I should be able to let them.”
The Boone County Coalition for Tobacco Concerns will conduct a second awareness survey later this summer to gauge the effectiveness of a new educational campaign about the dangers of second-hand smoke.
Cooperstock expects that an ordinance to further restrict smoking could be brought to the Columbia City Council by late summer or early fall after the second, more informal survey is completed.