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A statewide smoking ban was not such a hot idea as far as lawmakers were concerned, but trends are definitely turning that direction, some officials say.
“There’s been a bill come up for that for the last few years, and it didn’t pass again this year, but it’s been the biggest push for it yet,” said Rep. Brad Montell (R-Shelbyville).
And on the local level, that same split seems to be growing among officials and the public.
Shelbyville Mayor Tom Hardesty said the matter came before the city council a couple of years ago.
“A couple came to the city council, wanting the council to enforce a smoking ban on businesses and restaurants, but the council chose not to take any action,” he said. “That’s the only time I can ever remember that anybody has ever asked us to initiate a smoking ban. Of course, all city buildings are smoke free, for a couple of years at least, maybe even longer.”
But Hardesty said he could understand both the public and business sides.
“I think attitudes have changed over the years,” he said. “I know a lot of people have quit smoking over the years, myself included, people are becoming more health conscious. But there are still a lot of people growing tobacco around here, and I understand that. I can’t speak for why the council didn’t take any action on the request; they just wanted to leave it up to the individual businesses. That way, the consumer can make their individual choice based up the decision of the business owner.””
Shelbyville City Councilman Shane Suttor said that he personally was not in favor of imposing such a ban unless it extended farther than just the city limits.
“I felt like it needs to be a county wide ban, because I really didn’t want to put a burden on the city restaurants,” he said. “It would just put city restaurants in an unfair advantage. If it were a countywide ban, then everyone would be the same. I’m sure if the county would, then we would.”
Shelby County Judge Rob Rothenburger said he, too, remembered a public push for the ban, and at that time fiscal court did an unscientific poll of local establishments.
“About eightypercent of the restaurants had already gone nonsmoking on their own,” he said. “There hasn’t been a big push for it for a while. We’ll probably do another survey amongst restaurants in the county and see where we’re at, because we sit back and look at all our ordinances periodically to see what we need to update. At this point, the only discussion that’s been out there has just been on restaurants and bars. If they decide to take it back up, I would say that the discussion would just be limited to those at this point because of the health risk involved.”
Rothenburger said that magistrates would not consider a smoking ban while it was under proposal at the state level because it would be a moot point if it passed.
He said that when it was brought up before the fiscal court, reactions by magistrates were mixed.
“There was strong support on both sides, some were for it and some said it was a personal choice,” he said. “We had good input and the fiscal court said they would re-evaluate it again.
The Sentinel-Newspolled readers through Facebook, and got some of that same give-and-take from both sides, with the results coming out fairly evenly split.
They cited the tradition of tobacco growers in Shelby County, and some said there was no need, since most restaurants don’t allow smoking anyway. Others, including Magistrate Bill Hedges, said that there is already too much government interference in too many areas. But most not in favor said they opposed the ban because it was an issue of taking away one’s personal freedom of choice.
Wrote Karen Sharp: “When we are told what we can do and where we can do it, we no longer have FREEDOM. If we are not going to have freedom in the US, then what are our soldiers fight for? The same as smokers have a choice of going in a non-smoking facility, the non-smokers have the choice of not going in a smoking facility.”
Those in favor of the ban mostly cited issues with health concerns.
Tiffany Ann Martin wrote: “In a heartbeat! It's not fair to us non-smokers to have to inhale it...also the kids of the people.”
Rothenburger said he doesn’t believe the issue is dead.
“I can see coming back up one day, probably in the near future,” he said. “Or it could be that we’ll just wait until the two new members [that will fill seats being vacated by incumbents] come aboard before we bring the discussion up and see what the two new members think about it.”
Magistrate Hubie Pollett, who has never smoked and is on the county’s emergency medical services committee, said his inclination would be to let restaurants make their own decisions. But he added that he thinks they should have to publish their policy in the newspapers and defend their stance on it.
“If they have to defend it [smoking], then what would they say?” he said.