Smoking ban should go before voters

February 13, 2014

As evidence this week, the city’s public smoking ban remains a contentious issue and could well play a role in April’s council and mayoral races.

The community has become divided into those who see the public smoking ban as a form of government overreach that has proven harmful to the bottom line of some local businesses and those concerned by the health impact on patrons and employees due to prolonged exposure to second-hand smoke.

As reported by the Democrat’s Emily Jarrett, council will revisit the issue again on March 3, as it considers an amendment that would exempt five small bars: Coach’s Sports Bar, Chez When Cocktail Lounge, Friendlys Tavern, E Street Bar and Mandy’s Korner Lounge from the ban.

During Monday’s meeting Ward 4 Councilman Tollie Rowe expressed frustration with repeated attempts to alter the ban, noting that council has debated the pros and cons of the issue since March of last year.

“It’s February, this has been passed since June and in effect since September. How many times are we going to look at this issue? If we keep going back over this we’re never going to get anything done.”

We couldn’t agree more.

While we agree the interests of private business owners should be taken into account as our council looks at the true financial impact of the ban, we do not believe the council should engage in making special exemptions for select businesses. A smoking ban, if it is to be effective, should cover all businesses fairly and evenly and should carry with it the proper authority to see that the ban is properly enforced.

While the named businesses say they can demonstrate a negative financial impact from the ban, all bars and restaurants could likely make an equal claim to lost revenues. If lost revenues are the primary deciding factor in deciding whether or not to maintain the ban, the only fair decision would be to repeal the ban outright.

The ban originally passed in June by a vote of 6 to 2, then was revisited in October and reaffirmed by a vote of 5 to 4, with Mayor Elaine Horn casting the deciding vote. Due to the narrow division of council we believe local businesses could be subject to greater harm by the potential of having the balance of power shift between opposing sides in the debate during each year’s council elections. The result could well see pro- and anti-smoking ban council members continue to tinker with the ban for years to come and businesses left unsure of who and how their establishments will be affected by the ban year-to-year.

Given the continuing distraction this issue has and will continue to play as council conducts its routine business, we believe it is in the best interest of the city to revoke the smoking ban entirely and for proponents to draft an ordinance to go before voters in a city-wide referendum. If the people of Sedalia want such a ban in place, they should be allowed to vote on it themselves and all parties involved should feel bound by that decision.

No one is being well served by council’s current strategy of passing and then constantly second-guessing its own decisions.