Smoking restrictions gain city support

Majority of commission backs prohibition

A majority of Lawrence city commissioners now favors restrictions on smoking in bars and restaurants.

As recently as last week, Mike Rundle had proclaimed himself undecided on the issue. On Tuesday, though –the day he was elected mayor by his fellow commissioners — Rundle said he favored a ban to protect workers from secondhand smoke.

“The health research seems pretty compelling,” Rundle said. “The health impact on workers seems pretty significant. I think we’re going to be touching a lot more workers’ lives with this than we did with the living-wage ordinance.”

Commissioners last year approved an ordinance that requires businesses that receive city tax abatements to pay their new employees a minimum “living wage,” currently $9.79 an hour plus benefits.

Rundle joins Commissioners David Dunfield and David Schauner in favoring smoking restrictions. Commissioners Sue Hack and Boog Highberger have said they were undecided on the issue.

None of the commissioners currently smokes cigarettes, although Hack and Dunfield are former smokers. Hack said she quit three years ago; Dunfield said he gave up the habit 20 years ago. Schauner said he enjoyed an occasional cigar.

Smoking ban advocates applauded Rundle’s comments.

“Outstanding,” said Judy Keller, executive director of the American Lung Association of Kansas and a member of the city Task Force on Smoking.

“I think the city commissioners understand what polls show the majority of Douglas County residents understand — that secondhand smoke is deadly, and no one should have to work in a place where they are exposed to it,” Keller said.

Ryan Folker, a barista at Henry's, 11 E. Eighth St., prepares a drink for a customer at the coffee shop. The business allows smoking, and Folker said he thought that businesses should be able to choose whether to be smoker-friendly or smoke-free. Folker, who smokes, added, Id feel the same way if I wasnt

Chuck Magerl, owner of Free State Brewing Co., 636 Mass., another member of the task force, said he wasn’t surprised.

“There wasn’t the sense that those of us who were asked to work on this for a year were just practicing,” he said. “The expectation was that action would be the result of that.”

Magerl has been a vocal leader of restaurant and bar owners concerned about the economic fallout of a ban.

“I think what we’ve seen in locations around the country, it’s hugely dependent on how the ordinance is written,” he said. “There’s no such thing as one-size-fits-all.”

That’s why the debate now turns to the details of a ban. Dunfield, at the request of the commission, is researching various options for enacting a ban.

Clean Air Lawrence will conduct a forum on a proposed workplace smoking ban at 7 p.m. today in the Lawrence Memorial Hospital auditorium.Speakers will discuss the dangers of secondhand smoke and economic effects smoking bans have had in other cities.

Schauner said Tuesday he favored “incentivizing” smoking restrictions, such as offering financial rewards to bars and restaurants that banned smoking.

“I want restrictions, but I’d like to make them voluntary,” he said.

Restaurant and bar owners are likely to push for a partial ban, used in some cities, that would allow smoking after a certain hour. But anti-smoking forces will resist such suggestions.

“We certainly do not support limited hours,” Keller said. “The fact is, if you allow smoking at certain hours there are still employees working during those hours that are exposed to secondhand smoke. You don’t really protect public health as long as you allow smoking some of the time.”

The employees, though, have yet to be heard from publicly.

Ryan Folker, a barista at smoker-friendly Henry’s, 11 E. Eighth St., said he didn’t want to see a ban.

“I’m a smoker, in fact, so it seems ludicrous protection for me,” Folker said.

“Smoking and alcohol, to me, go hand-in-hand. Same with coffee,” he said. “To me, (a ban) is a compromise of freedom.”

Officials have said a proposed ordinance could land on the City Commission desk by the end of the month.