City council, residents discuss smoking ban

Meranda Watling

Eric Vaiksnoras of Kent and his 2-year-old son David wore matching T-shirts with a non-smoking symbol across the front and back to last night’s Kent City Council meeting.

With more than 50 people present, city council opened the floor to debate about a proposed smoking ban for public places in Kent. The Kent Licensed Beverage Association and the Portage County Tobacco Prevention Coalition, as well as concerned residents and business owners, turned out to discuss the pros and cons of the proposed ban.

Vaiksnoras said he is for the smoking ban and considers smoking a public health hazard. He worries about its effects on both his and his son’s health.

“You have the right to smoke, but you don’t have the right to hurt people,” he said. “(Smokers) can go outside and smoke. You’re not taking away people’s right to smoke. You are asking them to have consideration.”

Amy Thompson, assistant professor of health education, spoke on behalf of the coalition. She said that although smoking may be a personal choice for the smoker, it isn’t always for the people around him or her.

“If an individual sits in a smoke-filled bar for two hours, he smoked the equivalent of four cigarettes,” she said.

Coalition coordinator Aaron Bohannon defined a public place as anywhere the public frequents.

But not everyone present was supportive of the ban. Kent resident Geneva Hintz, a non-smoker herself, said the ban would essentially make smokers second-class citizens. She said she thinks people should be able to decide for themselves whether to patronize businesses that allow smoking.

“If you don’t want to smoke, don’t smoke …” she said. “If I want go to a restaurant (with smoking), I will. I’ve been doing it my whole life, and I haven’t died yet.”

Bar owners representing the Kent Licensed Beverage Association and employees also showed up to present their side of the debate; most were concerned primarily about its economic impact on their businesses and the city.

Brent Fabry, employee at Club Khameleon, worried that asking people to step outside of his club would cause it to go out of business. Already, if one or two people step outside to smoke, there are noise complaints, he said.

“If we have 50, 60, 100 people outside, we’re not going to lose 10 percent of our business, we’re going to lose 100 percent of our business,” Fabry said.

Aside from the loss to business, the owners were concerned about who would enforce such a ban. Brad Patterson, owner of The Loft, said he worried about making customers into criminals.

“If a guy who’s been coming in for 20 years lights up, do I have to call the police chief?” he asked.

Ward 3 Councilman Wayne Wilson also questioned who would police the efforts.

When pressed, Bohannon said the burden of policing would come down to the bars and would be self-enforced.

Vince Fazio, owner of Mugs, said he also worries about the effect asking smokers to step outside would have on the downtown environment.

“We’ll have a lot of people standing outside bars smoking, and that’s not going to look good,” he said.

Fazio also said so far no customers have approached him asking his bar to go smoke-free, but a couple have come to him concerned about a possible smoking ban.

Charlie Thomas, owner of Ray’s Place, agreed with Fazio. If customers wanted his bar to be smoke-free, they would ask for it.

“People come to our place because they like to come there,” he said. “The day they don’t come because they don’t like smoke I’ll change.”

No decisions were made at last night’s meeting, as it was meant to be a public forum. The Portage County Tobacco Prevention Coalition said it would hold another public forum at 7 p.m. April 16 in the auditorium of Theodore Roosevelt High School.

Contact public affairs reporter Meranda Watling at [email protected].