The number of complaints in response to the city’s new smoking ordinance has decreased since police made a surprise inspection at eight bars on March 1 and issued 24 tickets.
A total of 31 complaints about potential violations of the smoking ban were received from Jan. 9 through Wednesday, according to the Columbia/Boone County Health Department records. The complaints peaked at eight the week of Feb. 25, when the enforcement action occurred. Since then, the number of complaints declined and now range between two and three per week. The complaints leveled at one for three weeks and increased to three last week.
“The number of complaints initially after the ordinance was quite a bit more,” said Gerry Worley, environmental health manager at the Health Department. “Since we’ve had the enforcements, the number of complaints has decreased.”
Since the March 1 crackdown, complaints have involved both locations of TP’s Bar & Grill, 5614 E. St. Charles Road and 912 Rain Forest Parkway; the Blue Fugue, 120 S. Ninth St.; Tiger Club, 1116 Business Loop 70 E.; Cody’s, 2508 Paris Road; Buffalo Wild Wings, 3908 Peachtree Drive; Farm Power Lawn & Leisure, 1702 Business Loop 70 E; and an office in the Atkins Building.
Both locations of TP’s Bar & Grill, the Blue Fugue and Tiger Club were also the targets of the initial enforcement action coordinated by the Health Department and the Columbia Police Department’s Community Action Team.
Eight of 15 complaints received since March 1 involved both locations of TP’s Bar & Grill, where half of the tickets were issued during the enforcement operation.
Complaints against both locations of TP’s Bar & Grill involved people who were seen smoking inside the bar. The day before the crackdown, a customer who said they went to TP’s to pick up chicken wings told health officials that Troy Palmer, the owner of the bar, was sitting at a table with smokers and that half of the customers inside were smoking. The complainant also reported that plastic cups were being used as ash trays.
Palmer, who was among those issued tickets on March 1, was represented Wednesday in city court by attorney Mark Abbott on a charge of allowing people to smoke in a prohibited area. The law, which bans smoking in bars, restaurants and other enclosed public areas, requires proprietors to ask people who are smoking to stop.
Abbott said he was preparing a legal challenge to the charge; the case will continue May 14.
“It is one thing to cite people smoking in a bar and another to put enforcement responsibility on owners of the establishment,” Abbott said. “It’s unreasonable making a private citizen responsible for enforcing a city ordinance.”
The responsibility of proprietors under the ordinance is vague, Abbott said. “When you ask customers to stop smoking, and they don’t, how many times should you ask them, and when do you throw them out?” he said.
Worley said the Health Department is considering pursuing further charges against TP’s Bar & Grill and Tiger Club in the near future.
“We are hoping the courts can deal effectively with repeat offenders of the ordinance,” Worley said. “It is possible the ordinance could be modified to deal with the chronic offenders.”
The other cases involving tickets issued March 1 have been making their way through city court. At least 10 of those cases have been disposed with guilty pleas and fines of $27.50 plus court costs of $22.50. Violators can be fined up to $200.