Anniston City Council wants to broaden business smoking restrictions
by Paige Rentz
Gregg Shaddix smokes a cigarette at The Peerless Saloon and Grille after the work day. Anniston City Council wants to further restrict public smoking. (Anniston Star photo by Trent Penny)
As he does many afternoons, Gregg Shaddix leaned over the long bar of the Peerless Saloon on Wednesday, a Coors Light and an ashtray before him and a cigarette from his pack of Marlboro Silver 100s lit in hand. A regular at the downtown Anniston watering hole, Shaddix drops by the Peerless three to four times a week to relax for a few hours.

Smoking is a big part of his ritual relaxation, one that he said he should be able to continue to do in establishments like the Peerless.

“It’s our freedom,” said the 53-year-old pack-a-day smoker, who started when he was 21. “Our freedom is being taken away from us.”

Soon, Shaddix may find himself out of luck on afternoons such as this; the Anniston City Council is considering further restricting public smoking in the Model City.

At the council’s Tuesday work session, public health advocates discussed the dangers of secondhand smoke and other implications of smoking and presented the council members with a model ordinance that would further restrict smoking in the Model City.

“We know that comprehensive smoke-free policies eliminate exposure to secondhand smoke,” Ashley Lyerly, regional director of advocacy for American Lung Association, told the council. “It saves lives.”

Mayor Vaughn Stewart said he thinks there is a keen interest among the members of the City Council to broaden the city’s smoking policy.

“It’s the right thing to do,” he said. “It should have been done before. This will just take the city of Anniston to the next level in terms of livability.”

Alabama’s place in tobacco control

According to the American Lung Association’s “State of Tobacco Control” report, Alabama is falling behind on tobacco policy, including measures to encourage prevention and smoking cessation.

The association, working from figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, estimates that nearly one-quarter of adult Alabamians smoke, and a slightly smaller rate of 23 percent of high school students smoke. Alabama is among the 11 least-restrictive states when it comes to smoking in public places. Alabama provides no restrictions for private worksites, restaurants, bars or gaming sites at the state level.

Comparing the ordinances

“What we have before us is a real opportunity,” Lylerly told the council Tuesday. “We know there is no safe level of exposure to second-hand smoke.” The question, she said, is “how can we really focus on Anniston and make Anniston a livable, healthy community?”

The city’s current ordinance prohibits smoking in a number of public places, including commercial establishments such as banks and retail stores, public transportation, elevators, restrooms, educational facilities, any public area of a health care facility, indoor entertainment venues such as gymnasiums and theaters and any other enclosed area used by the public.

But the law does permit bars and restaurants to allow patrons to smoke. Under the ordinance, which was passed in 2006, owners of food and beverage establishments are required to designate their establishments as smoke-free or smoking and post signs to notify patrons of these designations. Smoking establishments are also required to operate ventilation systems that are cleaned every 10 days to help remove smoke and toxins from the air.

Smoke-free establishments, under the current law, can offer employees a separate smoking lounge if it is heated and cooled by a separate ventilation system.

The model ordinance presented by Lyerly adds smoking bans for indoor places such as restaurants, bars, private clubs, hotel rooms, all nursing home rooms, common areas in apartment buildings and any enclosed place of employment without exception.

The model ordinance also limits outdoor smoking in a variety of ways. It suggests prohibiting smoking within 20 feet of entrances and other openings to public buildings, outdoor seating for restaurants or bars, stadiums or other outdoor entertainment venues, playgrounds and outdoor service lines.

Council sees benefits

“I believe it is not just an economic decision, it is a moral decision we need to make,” Councilwoman Millie Harris said of the proposal, adding that such an ordinance could protect workers in establishments where smoking is currently allowed.

Councilman David Reddick agreed the council should look at the ordinance and see how it should apply to the city. The Waffle House going smoke-free earlier this year shows the direction the city is going, he said.

“Society is just making a shift towards that,” he said.

With the council’s commitments to increase ecotourism through measures like improving Coldwater Mountain’s bike trails, members see a smoking ordinance as another way to make the town more inviting to cyclists and other visitors.

“I think it’s certainly the right thing to move Anniston forward, another tool in our economic development toolbox,” Stewart said.

Amid the push for increased regulations, Reddick cautioned the council’s job is to represent the people’s wants and needs. “We need to make sure the people are behind whatever decision we make,” he said. “My hope is the council stays alert to that.”

Businesses consider effects

At the Victoria Inn, guests are allowed to smoke in three of the hotel’s 60 rooms.

Manager Richard Kotlowski said he thinks new regulations could affect the inn’s business. “We actually sell those smoking rooms,” he said. “Every week or so we have at least two filled.”

Jack Stovall, manager of A.J.’s Sunset Bar and Grill, said patrons there are allowed to smoke.

“I think it’ll hurt some, but people will adjust to it,” he said of a possible smoke-free ordinance for Anniston bars. Stovall said he expected a smoking ban would most likely hurt with the bar’s regular happy-hour crowd.

“Most smoke and some sit around and hang out with their buddies and play chess or pool or whatever,” Stovall said.

This is the case for Shaddix, the Peerless regular. He said restrictions such as those being considered may send him home on afternoons to relax where he can smoke in peace. If he can’t smoke, he said, the bars won’t get his business.

But for those patrons the bar might lose, Stovall said it’s possible it might draw in others who prefer a smoke-free environment.

“I knew it was coming eventually,” he said. “It was just a matter of time. They’re going to outlaw it everywhere.”

Reddick also noted that with the city’s push to draw business downtown, the council should be careful not to discourage potential businesses that revolve around smoking, such as a fine cigar shop.

“We’re trying to recruit businesses, make downtown a place where people want to go and hang out,” he said. “It makes a lot of sense that a cigar shop might come down here.”

Next steps

Stewart said the council has instructed City Attorney Bruce Downey to research how the model ordinance has been tweaked and adopted by other cities in an effort to best tailor the law to Anniston. Councilman Jay Jenkins, who said he hasn’t completed research on the matter thus far, said he thinks there is room for some changes, perhaps items such as reducing distances requirements to 15 feet rather than 20.

Jenkins and other members of the council will have a chance to do this research on the ordinance’s provisions and make recommendations for changes. Stewart estimates the city may have the work completed and an ordinance to vote on by May.

The law would likely go into effect 30 days after passage, meaning it could be in place by summer.

Staff writer Paige Rentz: 256-235-3564. On Twitter @PRentz_Star.

© 2013