Ellen Brooke, a second-year law student at MU, sits in the Stumpy Joe Pete’s Sports Pub part of the Colosseum Bistro on Friday night, smoking her cigarette. She recalls being in Lexington, Ky., on New Year’s Eve and being forbidden to smoke in bars because of the strict no-smoking ordinance recently enacted there.
“We left early because we couldn’t smoke there,” she said.
That might be a problem local businesses will have to cope with this spring. The push to turn Columbia into one of a growing number of cities with stricter laws regarding smoking in public places is nearing a final stage.
Dean Andersen said he thinks the city will enact an ordinance banning smoking in indoor public places by spring. Andersen, co-chairman of the Boone County Coalition for Tobacco Concerns, said that after 18 months of working to educate the public, he thinks Columbia is finally ready for it. The coalition is a community-based group concerned about the hazards of secondhand smoke.
“What we want is a broad, comprehensive clean-indoor-air law with no loopholes, because loopholes that exclude some businesses create the perception that it’s unfair, and it’s hard to defend an unfair public policy,” he said.
The coalition has been working on language for the ordinance, which is yet to be reviewed by the Columbia/ Boone County Board of Health.
“We’re not trying to make smokers into villains,” Andersen said. “It’s not a moral issue. It’s not a rights issue. It’s a health issue.”
Some members of the coalition are smokers , but they still support the ordinance, Andersen said.
Linda Cooperstock, public health planner for the Columbia/Boone County Health Department, has worked closely with the coalition as its liaison to the health department and the board of health. On Feb. 8, Cooperstock said, the board of health will meet and the coalition will present its proposal. The board could then write a letter or submit a brief report to the City Council.
If the council directs the board to investigate the issue, the board will form a subcommittee made up of some of its members and citizens affected by this ordinance. Any proposed language of the ordinance would serve as a blueprint for the subcommittee as it hears public input. The subcommittee, or task force, would then make a report to the council.
“It might be that after all the public input the task force could determine not to do an ordinance,” Cooperstock said.
Cooperstock estimates the process could take two to three months.
Fourth Ward Councilman Jim Loveless, a self-proclaimed “reformed smoker,” said he could not comment on the proposed ordinance until the council sees its specific language. To him, it is a question of how intrusive residents want their local government to be.
“(It) kind of bothers me to have government telling you how to run your business,” he said.
Loveless said he would prefer to see businesses take the initiative in going smoke-free on their own, rather than legislating them. He also said a business is unaffected by whether it allows smoking.
“It’d be very interesting to hear the public debate on it,” Loveless said.
The Columbia Chamber of Commerce has not taken a formal stance on the issue, chamber President Don Laird said.
Sixth Ward Councilman Brian Ash said he is concerned with the effect this ordinance might have on businesses.
“We’ll have to see exactly what gets proposed,” he said. “Will it be fair to have certain exceptions? Will it be fair to have no exceptions?”
Andersen said protecting the health of the workers while creating a fair playing fieldfor all businesses is possible.
“If this were lead or asbestos or any other substance in the environment, we would do something about it,” Andersen said. “No one should have to make a choice between a job and their health.”
Jamie Lang, 19, an MU student and waitress at the Colosseum Bistro, agrees.
“I hate smoke,” Lang said. “I hate smelling like it.”
Another student said people would grow accustomed to a no-smoking ordinance.
“I think that it’s like seatbelt laws. It’s completely paternalistic, but after a while people will adjust,” said Kameron Murphy, a third-year MU law student at Stumpy Joe Pete’s on Friday.
While studying abroad in Spain, Murphy noticed that smoking was more prevalent there than in the United States.
“You go into a bank and the tellers are smoking,” he said. “We’re pretty smokeless here.”
The coalition publishes a guide listing more than 100 restaurants in Columbia that have voluntarily gone smoke-free. For a copy, residents can send an e-mail to the coalition at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If a proposal were passed, Columbia would join the ranks of indoor smoke-free cities, including Lexington, Ky., which began enforcement April 27, and Lawrence, Kan., which began enforcement July 1. Lawrence is the home of the University of Kansas.
“If the Jayhawks can do it, certainly we can do it,” Andersen said. “I think that we need to take pride in our community and the people that live and work here and protect their health just as much as a Jayhawk would protect theirs.”