A recently approved statewide smoking ban likely will make it illegal to smoke in many of the sidewalk dining and drinking areas in downtown.
A provision in the state law — scheduled to be signed by the governor on Friday — makes it illegal to smoke within a 10-foot radius of a doorway. Lawrence’s smoking ban has no such provision, and the city’s top attorney said she has not yet found any way for Lawrence to exempt itself from the new provision.
“Certainly we’re going to have to comply with the state law,” said Toni Wheeler, the city’s director of legal services. “It does differ from our ordinance. I think there will be changes on the horizon.”
The law changes are scheduled to begin July 1.
Wheeler stressed that she is not yet done with her review of the statewide ban, but she said a preliminary look indicates several sidewalk dining areas in downtown could be impacted.
In some cases, if a business’ doorway is in the middle of its storefront, the 10-foot radius requirement would make virtually all of the sidewalk dining area off limits to smoking. In other cases, some businesses may be allowed to keep portions of their sidewalk seating areas open to smokers, depending on the placement of their doors and the doors of neighboring businesses.
But many in the bar and restaurant industry are concerned, noting that there are a lot of doors in downtown.
“It definitely will have an impact on business,” said Subarna Bhattachan, who is a co-owner of La Parrilla, Zen Zero and Genovese — which all three have sidewalk seating areas. “Technically, I’m not sure where anybody is really going to be able to smoke in downtown.”
Several downtown bar owners did not return phone calls seeking comment. But a Lawrence-based lobbyist for the industry said the changes are coming at a time when consumers already are staying at home more and spending less at bars.
“It will be punitive,” said Phil Bradley, executive director of the Kansas Licensed Beverage Association. “It is hurting a group that already is hurting.”
Several physicians on Wednesday praised the changes. Dr. Steven Bruner, who helped organize the effort to create Lawrence’s ban in 2004, said the ban on smoking near doorways is consistent with what other bans across the country have done.
“The benefit of the provision is so you don’t have to walk through a cloud of smoke to enter and leave a business,” Bruner said.
He said he believed the public would accept the new outside provisions, especially as data continues to roll in showing that communities with strong smoking bans have lower rates of heart incidents.
“This is a huge step forward,” Bruner said. “We were a little remiss in not including this provision in the local ban from the beginning. It would have been better for the businesses, so they could have planned for it from the beginning.”
The state change does come just months after Lawrence city commissioners relaxed rules to allow some bars to have sidewalk seating areas. Previously, only restaurants could have the sidewalk areas.
The state law changes are expected to impact more than just the downtown areas. Other potential impacts include:
• Smoking decks at bars and restaurants also will have to meet the 10 foot requirement. The city’s current law allows such decks to be 80 percent enclosed and still qualify as a smoking deck. The new state law will require they be no more than 70 percent enclosed.
• An exemption allowing smoking in a specially ventilated break room at Hallmark’s Lawrence production facility likely will not be allowed under the state law, Wheeler said.
• In the city code, hotels currently can designate 25 percent of their rooms as open for smoking. The state code would cap that level at 20 percent.
City commissioners are expected to receive a report in the next several weeks on what changes the city will need to make to its law to comply with the new state law. The state law specifically does not allow any city to have a law that is less strict than the state’s.