After it became law in 2010, the statewide smoking ban meant that people in Lawrence could no longer light up within 10 feet of the entrance to a public building.
The city of Lawrence added the provision to its existing smoking ordinance, leaving it up to the fire department to carry out the regulation. But four years later, some Lawrence residents who signed a recent petition to ban smoking on Massachusetts Street think the rule isn't being enforced.
"I often take my small grandchildren downtown, and they love it. But there's one particular restaurant I don't even go to because you have to pass through a gauntlet of smoke just to get in the front door," said Carole Tomlinson, a Lawrence biologist and grandmother of 15 who signed the petition.
"I don't mean to be rude toward anyone who smokes. But it's a fact that if you don't smoke it's not pleasant to breathe, and it's not healthy for children's lungs. That's why that ban was started in the first place."
The discussion about Lawrence's smoking laws was sparked by the petition to ban smoking on Massachusetts Street, which was started by a local software developer. His petition now has nearly 200 signatures, with several of the signees noting that enforcing the 10-foot rule would go a long way toward fixing the problem.
Mayor Mike Amyx, however, said he believes downtown businesses are doing their best to follow the local smoking ordinance.
"If it does get out of hand, I assume people are … asking people to move away from the door," he said. "Right now I guess I'm pleased with what's going on. It seems to be working."
The 2010 Kansas Indoor Clean Air Act leaves it up to local law enforcement to enforce the ban on smoking within 10 feet of doorways, open windows and air intakes. In Lawrence, the ordinance is enforced by the fire department on a complaint-only basis.
"We don't go through and actually walk through restaurants and walk up and down streets to see if people are smoking within 10 feet," said Lawrence Fire Chief Mark Bradford. "We very seldom, if ever, get a smoking ordinance complaint. I don't know that we'd ever had a 10-foot issue before."
Lawrence police spokesman Sgt. Trent McKinley said the police department would assist the fire department in enforcing the ordinance if requested but also "does not patrol areas looking for violations."
In a statement, the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department said it "encourages residents to file a complaint with the fire department."
It added that residents are welcome to join LiveWell Lawrence's new tobacco-free living work group, and can learn more by visiting www.LiveWellLawrence.org or contacting community health planner Charlie Bryan at 785-843-3060.
Steven Bruner, a Lawrence family doctor who advocated for the city's original 2004 indoor smoking ban, said he believes outdoor secondhand smoke is more of an irritant than a health problem. "As we have become less and less exposed to cigarette smoke, it becomes more and more annoying because we're not used to it," he said. "It's right up there with popcorn as something you can smell even in diluted concentrations."
However, a 2012 study by several public health organizations, including the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, looked at outdoor secondhand exposure after finding that indoor smoking bans had pushed many cigarette users outside establishments or near entrances. The study determined that exposure to smoke outdoors "may increase risks of health effects associated with tobacco carcinogens."
City Commissioner Bob Schumm said that while he believes a complete ban on smoking on Massachusetts Street would probably be a step too far, there are other potential solutions, including marking on the street or sidewalk where the 10-foot zone would be.
"I think I would be more in favor of coming up with a solution to enforce or zone where people would be allowed to smoke," he said, "and hopefully that would answer the question."