Hashmi appoints bipartisan citizen committee to study a smoking ban and report back to Paris City Council

A standing-room-only crowd of about 150 people filled the City Council chambers where the attraction was a proposed ordinance to ban smoking in Paris except for one's home or vehicle. (eParisExtra photo by Charles Richards)

Monday’s council meeting drew a near-capacity crowd of about 150 people. (eParisExtra photo by Charles Richards)

City Clerk Janice Ellis today released the names of a citizens advisory committee, appointed by Mayor AJ Hashmi — whose job it will be to propose a smoking ban, or not, for the city of Paris.

It will be a 12-person committee, including the mayor and District 6 city councilwoman Cleonne Drake, whose jobs will be more to moderate the proceedings rather than to take part in the proceedings.

Five of the 10 citizen members were selected because they have expressed support of a smoking ban in the city.

The other five members were selected because they expressed opposition to a smoking ban.

Committee appointees (with stance for or against a smoking ban in parentheses) are:

  • Dr. Amanda Green (for)
  • Cecelia Grubbs (for)
  • Jeff Martin (for)
  • Dr. Ted McLemore (for)
  • Linda Vandiver (for)
  • Patrick Durham (against)
  • Jaime Haley (against)
  • Jerry Haning (against)
  • John Kruntorad (against)
  • Kent McKee (against)

Whether to adopt a smoking ban was on the council agenda on Monday, but the council decided to give a bipartisan citizens committee a say.

At Monday’s meeting, for almost an hour, the council listened as 40 individuals walked to the podium and expressed their opinion for or against a no smoking ordinance that would allow smokers to light up basically only in the privacy of their own residence or vehicle. Or perhaps outside, if far enough away from an entrance that non-smokers wouldn’t be subjected to second-hand smoke.

Committee members were selected from a group of about 20 citizens who expressed to Ellis after Monday’s meeting their desire to be on the committee.

It appeared all of those for a ban were non-smokers. At least half of those against a ban said they were non-smokers, but oppose private business being told they can’t allow smoking on their premises; if someone doesn’t want to be around smokers, take their business elsewhere was their general argument.

A number of people also complained that e-cigarettes should not be included in a smoking ban.

The committee’s ultimate conclusion will be passed along to the council. If the committee is unable to decide, the issue will go back to the council to decide.

The council itself — comprised entirely of non-smokers –appears split 6-1 for a more restrictive smoking ban, with District 5 councilman Matt Frierson alone in opposing a ban.

They were split down the middle — half of them adamant about the dangers of second-hand smoke and half of them insistent upon it being a business owner’s right to allow smoking.

It appeared that all of those speaking out for a ban on smoking were non-smokers, and that at least half of those opposing a smoking ban were also non-smokers but in opposition to government at any level imposing more regulations on restaurants, bars or other private business.

During two recent council meetings where citizens spoke about a smoking ban, some were more vocal and animated than others, Hashmi said. At least one person who was vehemently for and one who was vehemently against was included on the committee, the mayor said.

Three of the members own bars or restaurants — two that allow smoking and one that does not.

Kruntorad was the first one to come to the podium during a citizens forum on Jan. 13, saying he is a non-smoker but feels it should be up to a business owner to decide whether to allow smoking. Non-smokers can simply decide to take their business elsewhere, Kruntorad said.

Hashmi said he will not rush the committee.

“Smoking has gone on for years and years, and all of a sudden it is bad and we have to stop it immediately? What’s the big rush? Give it some time,” Hashmi said.

“I want the committee to unanimously come to a conclusion on what they want,” the mayor said. “I am confident that common sense will prevail.”

By Charles Richards, eParisExtra

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Charles Richards Charles Richards moved to Paris in 2004 after retiring from a 40-year career in journalism – the last 26 years as a news writer and sports writer with The Associated Press in Dallas and Washington, D.C. In mid-2004, The Paris News coaxed him out of retirement, and he began covering the police, court and regional beat for The Paris News. Then in early 2005, he was switched to coverage of a sharply divided Paris City Council. He was appointed by the City Council in 2006 to the 12-member City Charter Review Commission, which extensively rewrote the outmoded document. His writing awards include two first-place awards in statewide competition for feature writing. The most recent was his 2005 story on a Paris doctor’s startling use of leeches in a successful attempt to re-attach a man’s severed ear. Over his career, Richards’ interview subjects include Alabama Gov. George Wallace, President Bill Clinton, President George W. Bush, David Koresh, Arnold Palmer, Muhammad Ali and numerous other political and sports figures. He is an alumnus of Texas Tech, where he was editor of the school newspaper. He lives in Paris with his wife, Barbara, who is retired after 30 years as a teacher and high school counselor.