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The Paris City Council decided Monday night against passing a No Smoking ban, opting to have a citizens’ committee comprised equally of those for and against a ban to try to work out an agreeable compromise.
A public hearing lasted almost an hour, as 40 people took turns speaking for up to two minutes each either for or against a comprehensive smoking ban that basically would allow smoking in Paris only in the privacy of one’s home or residence.
The ban would include e-cigarettes, which in itself drew protests from several people who either use them or who own or work in stores that sell the “vapor cigarettes.”
The hearing quickly took on the feel of a sporting event as those who agreed with the speaker broke out in raucous applause. Mayor AJ Hashmi twice made requests that the audience refrain from cheering.
When it continued, the mayor said if it occurred again he would have the violators removed from the room.
Once the public hearing ended, the mayor opened council discussion of the proposed ban with a prepared statement in which he said he was opposed to smoking, but said he is reluctant to impose rules that infringe on the rights of business owners.
The mayor said he favors adopting a No Smoking ban, but recommended that the council first appoint a citizens advisory committee — split equally among those for or against — to tweak the policy into something everyone could support.
With District 4 councilman Dr. Richard Grossnickle casting the only dissenting vote, the council went along with the mayor’s recommendation by a 6-1 vote. The mayor asked any citizens interested in being on the panel to give their names to City Clerk Janice Ellis, after which the council will pick a panel comprised equally of folks for and against a smoking ban.
“I am disappointed that we are dodging the issue and not using what backbone that we have by appointing another committee to study what we all know — that smoking is harmful to the smoker himself and to the public in general,” Grossnickle said.
“The 20 percent of people who smoke make it difficult for those who don’t,” he said. Even when non-smokers are outdoors, they get “a lung full of smoke” when someone is smoking nearby, Grossnickle said.
“I think we need to protect the citizens of Paris,” he said. Elsewhere, cities, states “and even countries” have passed a strong smoke-free environment law, Grossnickle said.
As far as e-cigarettes, Grossnickle continued, “They may help people who are trying to quit, but so do patches and gum and other things that help curb nicotine addiction. It might make it look like something cool to some people and make some people to even start smoking.”
“Medical evidence is that smoking is extremely bad. It’s the worst legalized drug that we have. It’s worse than alcohol.”
Grossnickle lauded the recent announcement by a major pharmacy that it would no longer sell cigarettes and said “I might take my business there.”
None of the council members is a smoker, and all expressed concern about the dangers of smoking in general, and non-smokers being exposed to second-hand smoke, but the idea of telling a business owner what he could or couldn’t allow was also troublesome.
Chief among these was District 5 councilman Matt Frierson. While agreeing to send the matter to a citizens committee to be selected by the council, he took issue with the ordinance.
In his motion to refer the matter to a committee of citizens, the mayor included in his motion that Grossnickle and Frierson be part of the committee. Both objected, and the mayor ultimately appointed District 6 councilwoman Cleonne Drake, who was willing to serve, and himself to the panel.
Frierson called the proposed ordinance an “unacceptable imposition” on the rights of restaurant and bar owners, among others, to be told they cannot allow smoking in their establishments.
Frierson said there are a number of things about the ordinance, the way it’s written, “that I couldn’t possibly begin to support.”
Declaring that someone sitting in his vehicle at the drive-through at a bank “if they’re within 20 feet of the tube, they have to put their cigarette out. That’s a little bit over the top,” Frierson said.
“And construction sites, private clubs — there are some issues there. Of course, smoking is bad. I don’t smoke and am the father of three asthmatic kids, so in my heart, certainly, I’m against smoking,” Frierson said.
“As much as I abhor smoking, I lean toward the view that this is a business owner’s right issue, that if they choose to make less money, or choose to appeal to a different clientele, I have options as an individual in where I’m going to go,” Frierson said.
While most speakers were strongly — undeniably so — for or against the ordinance, there was some humor now and then.
Steve Ekstrom of 725 Medalist Drive entertained the standing-room-only crowd (plus a few that were sitting on the floor) of about 150 people with a comment about owners of restaurants and bars who say it’s their right to allow smoking and if people didn’t want smoke, they should go somewhere else.
Ekstrom said he would like to buy the First Federal Bank building on Clarksville Street, a building that has a see-through glass front, and turn it into a topless club,
If people didn’t want to look at the naked ladies, they could avoid going down Clarksville Street, Ekstrom said.
Wesley Tidwell, a member of Debb Fleming’s Socrates class at Crockett Middle School, was one of several youths who addressed the council, all part of a class project to publicize the dangers of second-hand smoke.
“Nearly one of three people die from tobacco-related issues,” said the son of local attorney Wes Tidwell.
Turning around, he started pointing at those in the first row behind him. “1, 2, 3, you die. 1, 2, you die. 1, 2, you die,” young Tidwell said as the room broke out in laughter.
Turning back to face the council, he said, “Just count up all the people in this room. That’s a lot of death. So, I’d like to try to prevent all of this death. Thank you”
The meeting drew the largest crowd ever in the present council chambers, although not as big as the crowds of 2005 — during spirited discussions about a proposed privatization of residential trash collection. But those meetings occurred at Love Civic Center while the old Central Fire Station was being converted into council chambers.
The No-Smoking ordinance included all enclosed public areas, including restaurants and bars, but also lobbies, hallways and other common areas in apartment buildings, condos, trailer parks, retirement facilities, nursing homes and other multiple use residential facilities.
It included elevators, buses, cabs, restrooms, and sports stadiums or arenas, plus outdoor areas of restaurants, all outdoor playgrounds, or within 20 feet of bank or fast-service drive-through windows.
The ordinance also would apply to all outdoor places of employment where two or more employees are required to be in the course of their employment. This would include work areas, construction sites, temporary offices such as trailers, restroom facilities and vehicles.
The ban would not apply to private residences unless used as a chilodcare, adult day care, or health care facility.
Any business allowing smoking in violation of the ordinance would be in violation of a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 for each violation, with each day in violation counting as a separate violation.
Individuals smoking in violation of the ordinance would be subject to a fine of up to $100 for a first violation, a fine of up to $200 for a second violation within a 12-month period, and a fine of up to $500 for each subsequent violation within a 12-month period.
By Charles Richards, eParisExtra