Lawrence's new mayor will appoint a task force to try to help city commissioners answer this question on behalf of local restaurant and bar patrons.
Smoking or non-smoking? The question that greets people being seated in most Lawrence restaurants could become moot depending on the findings of a task force scheduled to be appointed tonight by Mayor David Dunfield.
The six-member Smoking Task Force is being charged with studying the possibility of a smoking ban in some eating establishments but not necessarily offering a recommendation to the City Commission. Dunfield said he was more interested in hearing a range of options based on what the task force learns about what other communities are doing.
Many California cities and, more recently, New York City have instituted bans on smoking in most public buildings. Opponents of the bans cite smokers' rights and personal freedom while proponents point to health issues and the right to a smoke-free environment.
In Kansas, Salina recently approved a ban on smoking in bars and restaurants after a long and rancorous debate that forced a public referendum on the measure.
The task force being appointed by Dunfield won't be a rubber stamp for a smoking ban. It includes an official from the American Lung Assn. but it also includes owners of a local bar and a popular restaurant. These are people whose livelihoods are tied to their ability to attract customers, and turning away customers who smoke could affect their bottom line. An architect and two other community members round out the task force.
Chuck Magerl, of Free State Brewing Co., will serve on the task force. He isn't a smoker but said he had mixed feelings about a smoking ban. To tell smokers they can't light up at his business "is one of those challenging concepts," he said. "It strikes to the core of the word 'hospitality' in the hospitality business."
That's true, but it also begs the question of how hospitable a smoking environment is to people who don't smoke. The nonsmoking sections in some restaurants fall short of providing a smoke-free environment, and many people avoid bars or other establishments that don't restrict smoking.
Maybe the loss of business that restaurants fear wouldn't materialize if a smoking ban was instituted. A city ordinance that banned smoking in certain businesses also would take the heat off restaurant owners who might be seen as inhospitable for instituting a smoking ban of their own. The matter then would be out of their hands.
These are among the issues the tax force undoubtedly will explore before reporting back to the City Commission. There are strong opinions on both sides of this issue, and city officials will benefit from the task force's input and information. A restaurant smoking ban may be a good idea for Lawrence, but city commissioners are right to fully explore the options before moving forward on such a measure.