Archive for Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Smoking ban to be studied by focus group

Group appointed by mayor will be asked to look at bans in restaurants, public spaces

March 13, 2007

The next step in considering an ordinance prohibiting smoking in Shawnee public places will likely be a focus group appointed by the mayor.

This was the recommendation Shawnee City Council members on the Finance & Administration Committee agreed upon in their meeting last Tuesday. Though it appeared a majority of Council members agreed that they thought businesses should be able to decide for themselves whether or not to allow smoking on their premises, Council members decided it would be best to create a focus group to better gauge the opinion of those in the community.

Council members on the committee are Dan Pflumm, Mickey Sandifer, Neal Sawyer and Kevin Straub. The full Council held a special Council meeting before the committee meeting began to take care of some issues that needed to be addressed, since Monday's Council meeting was canceled. Council members Michelle Distler and Cheryl Scott remained in Council chambers for the committee meeting during the smoking discussion.

City staff reviewed the results of the county's survey on smoking in bars and restaurants, conducted last year, in which a majority of the 1,400 respondents indicated that they would prefer it if smoking was not allowed. However, Council members were still wary of the need for an ordinance.

Pflumm said he wanted the city to have some sort of prohibitive ordinance, though he was open to giving bars and some restaurants exemption from the ordinance.

"We don't have to start with the bars," he said. "(But) we don't even have a smoking ordinance that says you can't smoke in McDonald's."

Distler said as an asthmatic, she didn't like cigarettes or smoke, but she believed that the city shouldn't control businesses, saying her stance was pro-freedom, not pro-smoking.

Council members expressed concerns that Wyandotte County had not even discussed a smoking ordinance yet, and local businesses already have enough competition with the restaurants and bars in Village West. Sandifer said Lenexa also didn't consider smoking to be an issue.

Pflumm mentioned a bar in Olathe, which has an ordinance prohibiting smoking, that is always busy because of the people who go there for a smoke-free environment.

"If it's true that people are flocking to Olathe because of nonsmoking, then Shawnee business owners will stop allowing smoking," Distler responded. "I think it's going to drive that way on its own without the government control."

Scott and Sandifer agreed, each saying business owners should have the choice to allow smoking or not.

Several members of the public also spoke to the issue. Chuck Tabor, owner of the Peanut in Shawnee, said he was a nonsmoker but allowed smoking because 95 percent of his customers smoke. He said he didn't believe the city should have a right to ban smoking if cigarettes aren't illegal.

"How can you ban something that is legal?" he said. "If it's legal, there's gotta be a choice."

Straub asked if the city would have to put a smoking ordinance on a ballot if a valid petition to do so were submitted. Marvin Rainey, city attorney, said a petition could put the matter on the ballot, and the city would have to abide by the wording of the ordinance on the petition, which could be worded however the petitioners chose.

Sawyer said he would rather have the city create a focus group to investigate and get the opinion of the majority of the people, before the city was forced into a smoking ban proposed on a petition.

"I believe that we have to explore it, but I struggle with us telling businesses what they can and can't do," Sawyer said. "The reality is a smoking ban of some type is going to happen if you like it or not. We're going to have to move forward."

The recommendation to create a focus group has been forwarded to the full Council for discussion at the March 26 Council meeting.

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