Washington City Council members tweaked the city’s new smoking law Monday night but did not grant an extension of time for a business to comply with the ordinance.
After listening to concerns from Lance Unnerstall and Les Unnerstall, owners of Town ’N Country Lanes, the council agreed to relax a provision that restricts smoking within a certain distance from entrance doors. The council also eliminated the restriction on smoking near windows, but kept a provision that smoking is not allowed near a ventilation system. The code, as originally written, required smokers to stay at least 20 feet away from an entrance door. The council directed Mark Piontek, city counselor, to amend the ordinance to make that distance at least 10 feet from the “main entrance” of a business or workplace.
The ordinance, approved in January, takes effect April 15.
It prohibits smoking inside businesses, workplaces and private clubs. The law does not prohibit smoking in private residences unless they are used as a childcare, adult day care or health care facility. It does allow a hotel or motel to designate 20 percent of rooms for smoking, but only until Jan. 22, 2014, when that clause of the ordinance will be reviewed.
After passage of the ordinance, Lance Unnerstall asked the council to grant him an exemption until June 1 because the business is hosting the annual state ladies tournament sponsored by the Missouri State United States Bowling Congress and the fall/winter leagues won’t be finished until the end of May.
Lance Unnerstall said he has only heard negative remarks from customers about the new law.
“The problem is I have smokers who are bowlers,” he commented. He said while he is a smoker, he favors the new law.
Lance Unnerstall pointed out that there is a new bowling center in Union that allows smoking and he’s afraid that will affect his business.
“It’s scary to us. I’d just like to get through the season,” he said. “We’re really frightened at what will happen. We’re just asking you to allow us an exemption until June 1.”
Mayor Sandy Lucy pointed out that if an exemption is granted, it would change the ordinance for all businesses and workplaces.
“I do feel you would have a lot of families and others who would come to your facility if it is smoke free,” Lucy said.
Les Unnerstall questioned the clause that requires smokers to be 20 feet away from doors and windows. If that was enforced at his business, customers would have to go on the parking lot to smoke, he noted.
Joette Reidy, a leader in the Breathe Easy Washington group which lobbied for the law, said the 20-foot distance was requested by a citizen who has cystic fibrosis and can’t come within 20 feet of smoke.
Les Unnerstall said he disagreed with the abrupt way the April 15 date was chosen and that the council didn’t take more time to get feedback before adopting the measure.
Councilman Walt Meyer said the ordinance addresses a “real health issue” and that it has to be enforced “100 percent across the board.” Granting exceptions would create a real mess, he said.
Connie Groff, council member, agreed that the city can’t make exceptions to the law.
Meyer said he used to enjoy shooting pool at the bowling alley and taking his kids and grandchildren there. “But I can’t take the smoke anymore.”
Later, during the council discussion portion of the meeting, Councilman Mark Hidritch said he’s been asked why the council didn’t call an election on the smoking law.
“Because you can’t,” replied City Counselor Mark Piontek. “State law doesn’t allow third-class cities to hold referendums.” Piontek said third-class cities can survey voters on issues but can’t hold an election. “It’s not allowed.”
Hidritch argued that if the city can hold an election on annexation, why not a smoking law?
“State law requires you to hold an election on annexation,” Piontek said.
Hidritch then commented that the smoking law is not applied to 100 percent of businesses, noting the 20 percent smoking rooms allowed in hotels and motels and the fact that the city exempted the new hookah lounge on West Second Street.
The council included a provision to allow the hookah lounge to operate until Jan. 22, 2014, and then review the operation.