Starting in April, smokers will have to take it outside if they want to light up at restaurants, bars, businesses and other public places in Washington.
During their meeting Tuesday night, Jan. 22, Washington City Council members voted unanimously to approve the Washington Smoke-Free Air Act of 2013.
The council heard from a large number of advocates for the ordinance with the citizens group Breathe Easy Washington before debating some issues and then approving the measure. The new law will take effect April 15.
No one attending the meeting objected to passage of the ordinance, which includes a one-year exemption for a new hookah lounge on Second Street.
Council members listened to a parade of speakers who touted the health benefits of prohibiting smoking in public places as well as workplaces.
Joette Reidy, a spokesperson and a leader in the Breathe Easy Washington, noted that Kevin Cundiff, Washington, planted the idea a year ago which sparked the movement. She noted that it’s not a new idea and said that 100 countries, 28 states and 29 cities in Missouri already have laws prohibiting smoke in public places.
She cited statistics pointing to the dangers of secondhand smoke and said the group has been pushing for a comprehensive ordinance with “no exemptions.”
As members of the group began going out into the community, they were “overwhelmed” by the support of citizens and businesses, Reidy said. She presented petitions signed by 1,800 residents in support of the measure and said that the group has the support of more than 80 businesses in the community, including seven that now allow smoking in their buildings.
Reidy stressed that the ordinance needs to be “100 percent comprehensive” in order to protect patrons, workers and others from secondhand smoke.
“This ordinance is strong, simple and fair,” she remarked.
“The basic duty of government is to protect public health,” remarked Dr. David Chalk, an orthopedic surgeon who said that the law does not deny anyone the right to smoke but does protect citizens from secondhand smoke.
“The danger is real. It’s scientifically proven. The solution is simple. I encourage you to adopt the smoke-free ordinance,” Chalk told the council.
Members of the coalition are not against smokers, Cundiff said. “We simply ask them to step outside.
“Why wouldn’t we pass an ordinance that will protect the public’s health? Businesses already have other regulations on health and safety. Residents, tourists and families should have the right to breathe air that’s toxin-free,” Cundiff said.
Many other members of the group expressed similar comments to the council during the discussion. Also addressing the council was a representative from the American Cancer Society and other health care professionals.
Exemption for Lounge
Justin Miller, who is in the process of opening a hookah smoking lounge at Second and Jefferson streets, appealed to the council to “grandfather” his business, saying he has made a $20,000 investment in it and that the ordinance would effectively put him out of business.
Miller said his business is solely “to socialize and smoke” a hookah, which uses flavored tobacco.
City Counselor Mark Piontek presented an amended ordinance to the council Tuesday night that would give a one-year exemption to hookah lounges, until Jan. 22, 2014. That was the ordinance passed by the council.
Piontek was asked if the council could close a business by passing the ordinance.
“You can prohibit smoking indoors,” Piontek explained. “If the result is that he has to move, he can do that. There is no constitutionally protected right to have a hookah lounge in Washington.”
Councilman Jeff Mohesky said he doesn’t smoke but the concern he has is about rights. “We live in a country where rights are being taken away.”
However, he said he spoke with “90 percent” of restaurant owners and managers in town and the majority don’t have a problem with the ordinance.
“In my mind we have a majority of the people who want it and the food services don’t have a problem with it,” Mohesky said.
Connie Groff, council member, suggested grandfathering the hookah lounge because of the investment the owner made and the fact that the only people going into the shop are those who are smoking the hookah.
Councilman Steve Sullentrup said he doesn’t consider that a “level playing field.”
“This is all about health,” Sullentrup said. “If we’re going to do it, it needs to be a level playing field.”
The ordinance allows owners of hotels and motels to dedicate 20 percent of the rooms as smoking rooms, but some members supported 100 percent smoke-free rooms.
After some debate, the council agreed to keep the 20 percent of smoking rooms in the ordinance for one year, then revisit that section.
There also was some talk about exempting private clubs, ones requiring membership cards, but some noted that they are not truly private because members are allowed to bring in guests.
Some private clubs already prohibit smoking and others want to “but they don’t want to be the bad guys,” Mohesky said. “We can be the bad guys.”
A representative from the Washington VFW Post addressed the council and supported the smoke-free ordinance. He said one long-time active member can no longer come to the club because he has developed a respiratory problem.
Outdoor Public Places
Under the outdoor section of the new law, smokers must be 20 feet from entrances, windows and ventilation systems to prevent smoke from entering those areas.
The law also prohibits smoking within 20 feet of bleachers and grandstands for use by spectators at sporting and other public events and within 20 feet of all outdoor playgrounds.
According to the ordinance, enforcement of the provisions in buildings is up to the owner of the establishment. If a patron refuses to comply or leave the premises, the owner can call police.
Any citizen also can file a complaint with police about an establishment or workplace not complying with the ordinance.
The penalty for any person smoking in a prohibited area is a fine not to exceed $50.
The owner or manager of a business or workplace who fails to comply with the ordinance can be fined up to $100 for a first offense; $200 for a second violation in one year; and $500 for each additional violation within one year.
The law does not prohibit smoking in private residences unless they are used as a childcare, adult day care or health care facility.
Go to emissourian.com to read the complete ordinance.