Smoking would be banned inside all Columbia restaurants and bars under a draft ordinance that health officials are set to consider next month.
The proposal, which would ultimately need City Council approval to become law, would tighten the existing ordinance by doing away with designated smoking sections. The only allowance for smoking in restaurants under the draft ordinance would be outdoor dining areas.
Violations would be punishable by a fine of up to $200.
Michael Szewczyk, chairman of the Columbia Board of Health, said the board will review the draft at its Feb. 14 meeting. After the review, he said, there will be a public hearing, possibly as early as March.
If the measure is eventually approved by the City Council, Columbia would join a growing list of cities with indoor smoking bans. Chicago, Washington, D.C., and St. Paul, Minn., have all passed similar ordinances in recent weeks.
The Web site for the Boone County Coalition for Tobacco Concerns lists 43 restaurants, cafes and other food outlets and 13 franchises in Columbia that have voluntarily gone smoke-free, and that number continues to grow.
The owners of Sophia’s in Columbia plan to go smoke-free beginning Feb. 1. Addison’s, another restaurant with the same owners, will be off limits to smoking beginning Feb. 1 until 10 p.m. Both restaurants have already gone smoke-free for lunch.
“We see there’s going to be a ban in Columbia soon, and we’d rather be ahead of the curve,” said Jeremy Brown, one of the restaurants’ four co-owners. On the other hand, Brown said, he and the other owners would rather make the decision on their own.
Osama Yanis, owner of Coffee Zone, said that business has been up 20 percent since he adopted a no-smoking policy more than two years ago. “A few people got mad in the beginning, but there are always people who are mad when you change the system,” he said.
“It’s a good thing if everyone goes smoke-free,” Yanis said.
Tom Spurling, owner of Ernie’s Cafe & Steak House, a downtown diner with a limited smoking section, believes the days of smoking in Columbia restaurants are numbered.
“There’s a different perspective on smoking today,” Spurling said. “This is a pulse you can take right here in your own county.”
Stanley Godbey, 53, a regular at Ernie’s for 29 years, said that he’d probably still come if he couldn’t smoke, but not as often. “I prefer to smoke, and I’ll go where I can do it,” Godbey said.
The air was thick with smoke at a crowded Harpo’s on Thursday night. Nathan Cramer, 22, who had a plastic cup of beer in one hand and a cigarette in the other, said a ban would be unfair to smokers and proprietors.
“It’s my legal right,” Cramer said. “If you don’t like the smoke, stay out of the bar.”
Kurt Kienker, 51, who was having a cigarette outside the downtown Subway earlier this week, said he understands the concerns of nonsmokers.
“To tell you the truth, I don’t want to be around smoke when I eat either,” he said.
Dean Anderson, co-director of the Boone County Coalition for Tobacco Concerns, said studies conclude 35,000 to 50,000 nonsmokers die from second-hand smoke each year, and thousands are hospitalized. He said a ban on smoking is especially important to workers in bars and restaurants.
“No one should be expected to have to breathe it to hold a job.” Anderson said. “It’s bringing the service industry up to the standard of industries where smoking is regulated.”
Brian Ash, Sixth Ward City Council representative and co-owner of Bambino’s Italian Cafe, said a smoking ban would have the greatest impact on business owners without an outdoor patio or for whom smoking is an integral part of their business.
“The City Council is leery of harming an existing business,” Ash said. “It’s a real balancing act, trying to make the best decision.”
Ash said he’ll have to abstain from any council vote on indoor smoking because of the conflict of interest with Bambino’s.
The board has been considering a possible smoking ban for months, trying to look at the issue from many angles — economics, health, personal choice.
“I’m a firm believer in personal choice,” Szewczyk said. “But we have to remember, is our choice impacting the health of somebody else?”