Sunday’s heat was not enough to keep local business owners from collecting signatures for a petition to snuff out the smoking ban.
Armed with sunscreen, hats and plenty of drinks, Betty Hamilton, the owner of Tiger Club, Joel Thiel, the owner of Otto’s Corner Bar and Grill, and others sat at Broadway and Providence Road from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., collecting signatures for a petition aimed at putting Columbia’s smoking ban to a public vote in November.
The ban, which went into effect Jan. 9, prohibits smoking in enclosed public places.
Thiel said he doesn’t think the Columbia City Council will repeal the ban, and he wants voters to get their chance to weigh in on the November ballot.
He said the group is 400 to 500 names short of reaching the 2,580 signatures required to get it on the ballot.
Otto’s sales have dropped noticeably since the ban, with a 20 percent decrease in the first quarter and 33 percent drop in the second, Thiel said.
“The only thing that has changed are the rules of the game,” he said.
Thiel said he thinks many smokers have chosen to go to bars outside the city or stay home since the smoking ban went into effect.
“I don’t really go to bars,” Austin Poland said as he added his signature to the petition. He said his biggest concern is the revenue he thinks local businesses are losing due to the smoking ban.
John Schultz, chairman of the Boone County Libertarian Party, has taken an interest in the issue as well.
“I think the city overstepped its bounds. Business owners have the right to make the choice,” he said. “People aren’t forced to go into smoking bars.”
Hamilton said most of the people who signed the petitions are nonsmokers who disagree with the ban.
“I’m not a smoker myself,” petition signer Henry Lane said. “But the crowds have really gone down.”
Third Ward City Councilman Karl Skala, who was not in office when the City Council passed the measure, said he would support the issue if it came up again.
“I’m in favor of upholding the ban. It’s a public health issue, not a private property issue. I think council made the proper decision,” he said.
He said he thinks the petitioners might be disappointed if the issue does appear on the ballot, but he thinks voters will be in favor of the ban.
Ed Johnson, the owner of the Broadway Diner, said he decided to make his business smoke-free seven years ago, but he, too, is collecting petition signatures.
“I support the smoking ban, but I think it should’ve gone to a public vote. Let the people vote,” he said.