Some Restaurants Fuming Over Proposed Smoking Ban

As soon as I stepped through the restaurant door, the stinging sensation of cigarettes seeped into my lungs, making it hard to breathe. Far in the back I could see an elderly man washing dishes and a young woman taking orders from customers. A young college student sat in a side booth under the dim lights staring at his laptop, rubbing his head in frustration, and smoking a cigarette. In my head, I thought “perfect”. Of course you might be asking why I would think cigarette smoke permeating the air and imbuing into my skin was “perfect”, but with my story being about the current debate on an ordinance that would ban smoking in public places in Fulton, I needed a place that would really be affected if it passes.

These past few weeks the proposed ordinance to ban smoking in public places in Fulton has really begun heating up. The conflict between the Fresh Air Coalition group, who is trying to get the ordinance to pass, against the restaurant and bar owners has been pretty intense.

I’ve known about the Fresh Air Coalition group since they started up last year. I’ve kept them in the back of my mind, just in case I needed a story idea. Now, as things start heating up between the group and others in the community, I figured it would be the perfect time to do a story on it.

I decided to take it from the aspect of a restaurant owner. How would this smoking ban affect their business? How much of their business smokes? How much does the business mean to them?

After a few phone calls I spoke with Southside Diner owner Marilyn Bates. I found out 90 percent of her business smokes, most saying they would go elsewhere if the ban passed. Bates has been in the restaurant business her entire life; she grew up in a restaurant her parents owned. Before she came to Fulton she owned another restaurant. She’s owned the Southside Diner for about year now, her friends and family both work there, but she said she isn’t hesitant to move out if they ordinance passes. Bates feels furious, she feels the group is trying to take her and her customer’s rights away.

While there I approached a few Westminster College Students who have a tradition of coming to the Southside Diner everyday after class to smoke, drink coffee and talk. The three of them are from different countries and said it is pretty common for bars and restaurants to be filled with cigarette smoke where they come from.

One student, Valon, is from Kosovo and said he remembers the big cloud of cigarette smoke blurring your vision when you walk through a bar door.

“You to wait until the smoke clears to find your friends,” he said. He describes it as a “culture” there.

His friend Alen is from Bosnia and said it’s the same way there. Although they are not completely against the ban, they said they wouldn’t be coming to the diner anymore if it passes. They said they have been smoking for four years and wish they had never started, so they feel the ban may keep some people from starting to smoke. Finally though, they feel it should be up to a restaurant owner to decide if people can smoke inside their restaurant or not.

“They own it privately, so they should have the choice,” Valon said.

Ryan Krull, the tobacco-free community project coordinator of the Fresh Air Coalition group, feels differently. I found Krull through the Fresh Air website. He says he feels that in work places, employees have a right to breathe fresh air.

They decided to start the coalition after the Missouri Foundation of Health did an assessment of countywide health. They looked at general health concerns in the community. Krull said they found 26 percent of people over the age of 18 use tobacco in Callaway county. This is 2 percent above the state average. They decided to focus on Fulton because it is the largest town in the county. A grant was used to fund the coalition and provide programs for those who smoke.

So far the coalition has gathered over 800 signatures of those in town who are in support of the ban. But for those who don’t support it…

“People are terrified of such a policy going into effect,” Krull said. “First it’s change, and there is a lot of false data that economic doom will go into effect. So basically all bars and restaurants will close down.”

Krull describes the ban as “life changing for the community.” He said their goal is to increase people’s quality of life in the community.

Krull said he understands there are two sides to every conflict, but the way he sees it those in the work force should be able to breathe clean air at work.

“There’s two sides to every coin and they’re the rights of those who want to breathe clean air and that includes the employees who are exposed to it, even if they’re smokers,” Krull said. “There are studies out there that if someone is working in a very smoky bar for eight hours a day it’s equivalent to smoking 16 cigarettes, which is almost a pack a day. And if they’re a smoker that’s a pack a day additional compared to whatever they’re smoking at that moment.”

He is also in disagreement with restaurants and bars about their rights.

"They’re thinking that we’re stripping them of their freedom or their rights and we have to make sure that people understand that we also have the freedom or right to not be exposed to carcinogens.”

While gathering information for my story, I decided to ask both the restaurant owner and the project coordinator challenging questions to see how well they could prove their individuals points. I asked them what the pros and cons were to passing the ordinance to see how they would react to their opposition.

Whichever side a person decides to support, this story is a perfect example of how a conflict can be engaging and exhausting. It’s interesting to see how people react in certain situations. Both sides have very valid points, but you must look at the backgrounds of each person and their position in the community. At first glance this conflict has its basic points, but looking more in-depth there are so many things to consider before passing an ordinance like a smoking ban. For a journalist, I must choose different things to represent both sides to make it fair and balanced.

In the end though, no matter how many argument points I get from the opposing sides, only time will tell if their ordinance goes into effect. And if it does?

“I intend to move out of the city, find something out of the city limits,” Bates said.

Until then, smokers in public places are here to stay.


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