Caught between crowds of health advocates and bar owners, a slim majority of Lawrence city commissioners continues to be undecided about a possible ban on smoking in bars and restaurants.
"I think my thoughts are clouded by the (political) buzzsaw," Commissioner Mike Rundle said.
But Mayor David Dunfield and Commissioner David Schauner said they favored some form of restriction on smoking to protect the health of "hospitality industry" employees.
"I guess I would rather err on the side of protecting people," Schauner said.
Those comments followed a two-hour study session before a packed house that included bar owners, health officials -- including Kansas Department of Health and Environment Secretary Rod Bremby -- and members of Clean Air Lawrence, who wore "Good Health, Good Business" stickers.
Commissioners had expected to hear a range of possible smoking enforcement options from the Task Force on Smoking. Instead, they received a report on the effects of secondhand smoke and heard concerns about the possible fallout of a smoking ban on bars and restaurants.
Dr. John Hiebert showed commissioners photos of diseased lungs and ruptured hearts, saying secondhand smoke causes 3,000 lung cancer deaths and 35,000 heart disease deaths a year in nonsmokers.
"This is not a statistic," said Hiebert, a member of the task force. "These are real lives."
Chuck Magerl, owner of Free State Brewing Co., 636 Mass., said a ban could cause as much as a 10 percent drop in alcohol sales for bars and restaurants and possibly undermine locally owned businesses.
"Losing 10 percent of that alcohol sale could have a big impact on our ability to remain competitive with national chains," said Magerl, another member of the task force.
David Kingsley, chairman of the task force, suggested smoking restrictions were needed to protect the health of waiters and bartenders who can't make a living and avoid secondhand smoke at the same time.
"What we are talking about today is an occupational safety and health issue," Kingsley said.
Peach Madl, owner of The Sandbar, 117 E. Eighth St., disputed that notion.
"I have not heard any complaints from staff, in the 15 years that I've been here, about their sensitivity to smoke," she said.
Commissioner Dennis "Boog" Highberger sounded skeptical, as well.
"In all this debate, I haven't heard from anybody who tells me they're worried about smoking in their workplace," he said.
But Dunfield noted the city in 1987 banned smoking from most public places besides bars and restaurants.
"Why is it OK to prevent smoking in movie theaters but not bowling alleys?" Dunfield said. "Why should we prohibit smoking in supermarkets but not bars?"
In the end, however, commissioners were reluctant to move forward without a specific proposal on the table.
"I kind of feel we're in a real wobbly gray area about what we should talk about," Commissioner Sue Hack said.