After a mixed response from residents and business owners at a public hearing Tuesday, the Anniston City Council passed a much stricter city smoking ordinance. Councilman David Reddick cast the sole no vote on the measure, citing concern for businesses.
“I’m not against stronger laws or tougher laws,” Reddick said. “I just think a 100 percent ban is excessive.”
The ordinance bans smoking in all workplaces and public places including restaurants, bars and hotels.
At a public hearing held before the vote, several business owners lined up to express their fears about how the ban will impact their establishments. Alan Stovall, owner of The Office, a bar on Noble Street, was first in line.
“You can’t compare a bar with a restaurant or the mall or any other public place,” he said. “There is a slight difference.” He said a large percentage of his clientele smokes.
“I know smoking does hurt, and I know secondhand smoke does hurt, but I wish you’d table it to look at some ideas that would help,” he told the council.
Ann Crossley, owner of the Smoking Moose Saloon on Noble Street, said at the hearing she expects a lot of lost revenue in the city if the ban is passed.
“It’s unfair for a few people to decide what we can do behind closed doors,” said Crossley, noting the Smoking Moose is a private club. “If smoking is so bad, are we still going to sell cigarettes in Anniston?”
Ashley Lyerly of the American Lung Association brought a model for the comprehensive smoke-free ordinance to the council last month. At Tuesday’s public hearing, Lyerly laid out the Lung Association’s position on comprehensive smoke-free policies. “Secondhand smoke is a serious public health problem and even the briefest exposure is harmful,” she said. “We believe everyone has the right to breathe clean, smoke-free air.”
Lyerly cited a statistic that 800 adult nonsmokers in Alabama are lost each year due to exposure from secondhand smoke.
Darline Ritchey, an Anniston resident and volunteer with the American Heart Association, urged the council to pass the ordinance, saying she wants to protect her family and community from the danger of secondhand smoke.
“The American Heart Association’s stake in this is simple,” she told them. “Heart disease is the number one killer of Americans and Alabamians.”
And secondhand smoke, she said, increases the risk of cardiovascular disease by as much as 30 percent.
Councilman Jay Jenkins, with Reddick’s support, tried to amend the ordinance to strike all references to the banning of e-cigarettes, saying there is no empirical evidence demonstrating their harm to the public.
The remaining council members voted down the amendment, with Mayor Vaughn Stewart noting potential enforcement problems if e-cigarettes were excluded from the smoking ban.
Jenkins said that for bars who want to accommodate smoking patrons, they will be able to do so under provisions for outdoor smoking patios.
Councilman Seyram Selase said the he’s spoken with local patrons in the city’s bars.
“They actually said they would increase their attendance at some of these different establishments,” he said, adding that he believes local businesses will see a bump in business, especially with the pending ecotourism bill, better known as Anniston's Sunday sales bill.
“It’s not that we’re trying to tell people what to do or to infringe on their rights,” said Councilwoman Millie Harris. “But for me the litmus test is when do your rights hurt someone’s else’s rights?”
Harris said she understood worries from business owners, but ultimately, she said, “We have to do what we believe is the right thing for our city.”
In other business, the council:
• Approved an ordinance reducing speed limits on portions of 18th Street, 22nd Street and Woodland Avenue in the Rocky Hollow neighborhood from 30 mph to 25 mph.
• Approved an ordinance removing 12 downtown traffic signals at intersections along Noble Street and Moore, Gurnee and Wilmer avenues.
• Approved ordinances designating stop sign at a number of intersections, including at two new three-way stops, three new four-ways stops and eight new two-ways stops.
• Reappointed Greg Kernion and appointed Jimmie Thompson to the Regional Medical Center Board with terms ending May 31, 2018.
• Reappointed Jason Alderman and appointed Sheffton Goodson to the Revolving Loan Board with terms ending Oct. 4, 2016.
• Appointed Patrick Wigley and Joe Jankoski to the Transit Advisory Board with terms ending July 31, 2017.
• Approved an agreement with L.P. Campbell Company for consulting services to assist with obtaining federal and state grants. The annual service fee is $23,000.
• Authorized an agreement with the state Department of Transportation to transfer ownership and maintenance of a segment of Summerall Gate Road to the city of Anniston.
• Authorized a resolution to develop a financial plan for a regional partnership to enhance infrastructure at McClellan.
• Authorized the city of Anniston to participate in National League of Cities Prescription Discount Card Program. Selase said the program would provide discounts on prescriptions not covered by insurance and would be no cost to the city or residents.
• Authorized the transfer of $85,000 from the non-departmental portion of the budget to the HOME Consortium fund for professional services to correct deficiencies in the 2009-2010 fiscal year.
• Authorized applications for Transportation Enhancement Grant Program funds for sidewalks on Greenbrier Dear Road and to connect several downtown destinations.
• Approved Anniston’s participation in the state sales tax holiday the first weekend in August.
• Authorized City Manager Don Hoyt to negotiate a contract with the East Alabama Regional Planning and Development Commission to prepare analysis of impediments to fair housing to submit to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
• Approved a retail beer (on or off premises) license application for Bill’s BBQ LLC at 916 W. 10th Street.
• Approved the closing of Noble Street between 10th and 11th streets from 5 a.m. until 7 p.m. for the Downtown Mother’s Day Celebration on May 12.
• Appointed Stewart as a voting delegate for the Alabama League of Municipalities Business Meeting in Montgomery on May 20 and appointed Harris and Reddick as alternate delegates.
• Authorized reimbursements to city officials for expenses incurred while traveling away from the city.
• Overruled objections to the abatement of group of city lots identified as public nuisances.
Staff writer Paige Rentz: 256-235-3564. On Twitter @PRentz_Star.