To city, ordinance a matter of education

Wednesday, January 10, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 5:51 p.m. CDT, Thursday, July 17, 2008

No complaints were reported through late afternoon of the first day of Columbia’s smoking ban, and local health officials said they would continue to rely on educating the public and proprietors as a key to successful enforcement.

Environmental specialists are prepared to respond to calls about potential violations during business hours. Heather Baer, spokeswoman for the Columbia/Boone County Health Department, said the sole call fielded through 4 p.m. Tuesday was about smoking at a place that doesn’t fall under the ordinance.

The new law, which took effect at midnight Tuesday, prohibits smoking inside bars, restaurants and other public places.

Smokers who violate the ban aren’t the only ones subject to fines. Business owners are required to post “no-smoking” signs, eliminate ashtrays and ask anyone who’s smoking to stop or leave.

“The goal is not to issue tickets to people, but to inform them about the ordinance,” Baer said.

In response to complaints, a business owner would initially be taught about the rules by one of the city’s 10 environmental specialists, according to Linda Cooperstock, a public health planner with the Health Department.

Cooperstock said the specialists do not look to “stump” business owners, but to establish trust through education. “Most owners respect environmental specialists,” she said.

The Health Department, as part of its education efforts, is in the process of offering a free smoking-cessation program to Columbia residents who request it. The Columbia City Council approved the initiative and submitted a grant. The program would provide one-on-one counseling and nicotine-replacement therapy.

Dean Andersen, co-chairman of Smoke-free Air For Everyone, or SAFE, said that although the ordinance will be “very good for the health of our community,” he thinks more should be done to educate people about the dangers of tobacco use and the availability of help for those who want to quit. SAFE is the new name of the Boone County Coalition for Tobacco Concerns that worked for 3½ years to promote the new smoking restrictions.

Andersen predicts the ordinance will reduce the number of people who start smoking and increase the number who quit. “We expect to see a visible decrease in the smoking rate in our community in the next six months to a year,” he said.

SAFE was encouraging Columbia residents to dine out on Tuesday to show their support for the ordinance.

Domingo Pacheco, vice president of Peers Against Second-hand Smoke, a peer-education program that promotes awareness of the dangers of second-hand smoke, thinks the new law is “a pretty good step in the right direction for Columbia.”

As a biology student at MU, Pacheco said he has heard numerous complaints from his peers who work at bars, hotels and restaurants at night and have endured headaches caused by second-hand smoke.

Cooperstock also said the ban will encourage people to think about quitting smoking. “Two things: If you make strict policies about smoking, or if you increase the cost of cigarettes — and one way to do that is by a tax increase — either of those two conditions will cause people to quit smoking in fairly large numbers, and there are statistics to go with that,” Cooperstock said.

Terry Wilson, coordinator of health promotion at the MU Student Health Center, said the ordinance will prevent some people who are trying to quit smoking from relapsing. He also said it will be good for workers.

“I consider it more of a clean indoor-air policy rather than a ban, Wilson said. “... The bottom line is, it’s important for the workers in those establishments to be able to work all night and make good money and breath clean air.”

Cooperstock is confident that through education and enforcement, Columbia’s smoking ban will be successful: “If smoking bans can work in 2,000 other cities, it can work here.”

— Missourian reporters Xianglin Liu and Yau Li contributed to this report

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