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More than 100 people crowded into the Paris City Council chambers Monday night, most of them in favor of a city-wide ban on smoking in restaurants, bars and other public areas.
The council meeting lasted for three hours, and almost an hour — from 6:10 p.m. to 7:06 p.m. — was devoted to a discussion of a smoking ban.
When the council got to Item 20 — “Discuss and provide direction to staff on amendments to Section 17-66 of the Code of Ordinances, Smoking in Prohibited Places” — anyone with an opinion was allowed to come to the podium and make their case.
Mayor AJ Hashmi said speakers would not be held to the usual two minute maximum, and more than a dozen people made talks.
Ten students from Crockett Middle School who have taken up a ban on smoking as a class project took turns making different points regarding the health hazards of second-hand smoke.
By far, most of those in the chamber favored a ban. One person after another talked about the health dangers of second-hand smoke.
Toward the end, a woman who came to the podium asked those in the audience who came to show their support for a smoking ban to stand. More than three-fourths of the crowd stood.
Only two people — neither of whom are smokers — opposed a ban on smoking.
John Kruntorad, a leader in the Association of Lamar County Republicans, led off the parade to the podium.
“I want to go on record that I’m not a smoker, and I am not here to promote smoking, neither am I an advocate of tobacco. I’m here to oppose the proposed ban strictly for business purposes,” Kruntorad said.
“The businesses in this town have many regulations imposed on them already by the state, by the federal government, and certainly by the city. What they don’t need is another inspector coming to the door. They don’t need to worry about if their signage is correct. They don’t need to worry about if they have a form filled out correctly,” Kruntorad said.
He suggested people who oppose smoking in restaurants and bars “should simply avoid those places.”
There are restaurants that are non-smoking because the business operator has made that choice, Kruntorad said.
“In the long term, those who oppose smoking ought not to be petitioning the council for relief and asking the council to impose upon the city a non-smoking policy,” Kruntorad said.
“Rather they should be arguing and petitioning the business owners to be a non-smoking facility. The argument being that a good business person, if they believe that they can increase their profits and garner more business, would certainly follow that policy.”
Ray Banks, who lives at 3450 Robin Road, disagreed, saying restaurant owners “are not going to listen to non-customers.”
The only other person to speak out against a smoking ban said he also finds cigarette smoke unpleasant, but the decision on whether to allow smoking should be left to the establishment’s owner. If people don’t like smoke, they should go only to places where it’s prohibited, he said.
Just about everyone else, including a number of doctors, said cigarette smoke, even outside a restaurant, is not only hazardous to other people’s health, it is an unpleasantness than ruins the dining experience.
“This isn’t a matter of just business,” said Dr. Ted McLemore, one of several physicians who advocated a smoking ban.
Steve Ekstrom, who lives at 625 Medalist St., drew chuckles when he said, “I am pro-smoking because it takes the stupid people out and thins out the population.”
He added: “Unfortunately it has a detrimental effect on the rest of us. It is downright embarrassing when people come to town and say, ‘You still smoke here?’ I just say, ‘Yeah, we’re not that bright.’ Everybody else has banned smoking and we haven’t, and I wish we would.”
“This isn’t a matter of just a few citizens asking for this. This is a message from the Center for Disease Control to cities throughout the nation to impose these new smoking regulations. Most cities in the state of Texas have already done so,” he said.
Lung cancer is the No. 1 cause of cancer deaths today, and 53,000 of lung cancer deaths a year are non-smokers who are victims of second-hand smoke, McLemore said.
Jeff Martin, who owns five Subway restaurants in Paris, said smoking is not allowed in any of them.
“I think my business would suffer if we allowed it,” he said.
Dr. Celeste Wilcox, an oncologist, said a smoking ban is not a matter of limiting a person’s individual decision “to smoke and potentially ruin their health. People still have that right to do that in their home. This is about protecting the environment for everyone else who chooses not to be a smoker.”
After 32 minutes, when everyone with anything to say had his or her turn at the podium, Mayor AJ Hashmi asked for comments from each of the council members.
To a person, all seven said they favor a smoking ban.
Hashmi (the councilman from District 7): “I am not a smoker, and I’m a doctor and that’s what I preach. I do, however, also acknowledge the fact that we don’t like to be told constantly what our government should or should not do. Having said that, I favor the thought that smoking needs to be curtailed.”
District 6 Councilwoman Cleonne Drake: “I enjoyed listening to everyone speak today. I also understand where the ones who spoke against it, where they’re coming from. I am not a smoker, have never been, and we can choose where we go to eat, but myself, personally, I would like to see the city go forward (with a smoking ban).”
District 4 Councilman Dr. Richard Grossnickle: “As a physician, I know the hazards of smoking and I appreciate everyone bringing their facts tonight because there’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that cigarette smoke is one of the most dangerous legalized forms of abuse that a person can inflict upon themselves. Somewhere along the line I hope that (the federal government) will ban cigarettes. It’s not just that the business owner has a right to set policy, he needs to look out for his employees. We need to think of the people who don’t have a choice. (Applause.) They find a job where they can find it, and unfortunately their workplace may be filled with smoke. I’ve also been out at Woodall Field, where one smoker can light up a cigarette and doesn’t realize that it pollutes an areas 50 yards square, and everyone’s having to walk through it. So I’m in favor of getting a much restrictive ordinance.”
District 2 Councilwoman Sue Lancaster: “I’m coming from having a mother who chain-smoked my entire life, and I suffered with asthma greatly and had a lot of effects from it. She didn’t understand, and still doesn’t, what effect it had on my health all my life. I’m very, very sensitive to smoke. If someone is smoking outside a restaurant, I do my best to avoid it, and I cannot frequent a place where there is smoking. I support going forward with control of second-hand smoke. I’m very aware of how dangerous it is.”
District 1 Councilman Aaron Jenkins: “I appreciate everybody’s response. This is kind of bigger than the City of Paris, and I would like to see it be nationwide, myself. I just hope the council can get together and make a quick response.”
District 3 Councilman John Wright: “We’ve heard a lot of different facts and a lot of different opinions. I respect a person’s right as a business owner. I personally am a reformed smoker — 40 years ago. I learned better, and I support the fact that it is a problem and I think we should do something to correct it.”
Hashmi thanked the citizens who expressed opinions about second-hand smoke, and added: “I also want to thank one gentleman who had the courage to speak against it. It was a courageous thing.”
The mayor informed the audience that the proposition will be placed on the agenda for the next council meeting — on Feb. 10 — for a public hearing “so that others who have not spoken, who didn’t come today by chance, that they didn’t feel this was a public hearing, that they are given a chance to speak.”
After the public hearing in February, the mayor said, the matter will be put to a vote of the council “so that an action can be taken.
By Charles Richards, eParisExtra