Council to hold discussion on smoking ban

Erin Hopkins

At tonight’s Kent City Council meeting, area residents will have a chance to listen to both sides of the argument about a smoking ban in public places.

The Kent Licensed Beverage Association, which represents local restaurants and bars, and the Portage County Tobacco Prevention Coalition will present reasons for and against the ban. Each organization will have 15 minutes to discuss its agenda.

Ward 6 Councilwoman Beth Oswitch said in an e-mail interview she is glad council is starting discussions.

“I believe that there is a lot of information that needs to be given to council and the community before any decisions can be even started to be talked about,” she said.

Ward 2 Councilwoman Carrie Gavriloff said no decisions will be made tonight, but she feels it is necessary to inform the public and council about the options.

“Hopefully we’ll start a discussion,” she said. “No yelling or screaming, but let both sides have time to present their information and then talk about it.”

Tonight’s meeting is only for public discussion and information gathering. No legislation will be presented.

Ward 5 Councilman Ed Bargerstock said he would vote in favor of a smoking ban in public buildings, but he would not like to dictate the policies of any private bars or restaurants.

“That’s not my decision,” he said. “I’m personally opposed to legislation that would tell bar owners what to do with their property. It seems very wrong to make criminals out of otherwise law-abiding citizens. When the patronage or owner of a private place decides, then it’s time to go smoke-free.”

Gavriloff agreed.

“I know where I’d like to see us, but that will take a long time,” she said, referring to an entirely smoke-free city. “The first step is legislation for city-owned buildings to go smoke-free, because sometimes people don’t have the choice to be in there or not. I, then, want the bars and restaurants to do it themselves.”

Councilman-at-large Rick Hawksley said in an e-mail the discussion “is unnecessarily divisive at this point because there are efforts being undertaken on the state level.”

Secondhand smoke has become a statewide health issue and led cities such as Toledo, Columbus and Bowling Green to pass clean indoor-air ordinances. Portage County’s neighbor, Summit County, passed a smoking ban in 2005 that took effect last month.

Oswitch said council must first listen to all sides of the issue before making Kent smoke-free.

“There has always been a lot of discussion regarding the dangers of smoking and secondhand smoke,” she said. “What I haven’t really heard is the effects that banning smoking from some business has on the business owners. I’m looking forward to hearing what the community is interested in also. I feel that will weigh heavily on any decisions.”

The public is welcome to participate in the discussion at the council meeting. It is at 7 p.m. in council chambers at 325 S. Depeyster St., across from the fire station.

Contact public affairs reporter Erin Hopkins at [email protected]