A smokin’ debate

Lindsay Wargo

Bar owner wants city council to butt out

Sophomore business management major Theo Lasser smokes at Ray’s Place with Allen Wickestron, senior physical education major. Lasser feels indifferent about the proposed non-smoking policy while Wickerstron said, “It’s a bar. You know people are going to

Credit: Andrew popik

The city of Kent may soon become a little less smoker friendly.

Councilman Garret Ferrara recently suggested the city look into a non-smoking policy for restaurants and bars.

“I like to go to the bars,” Ferrara said. “I have sisters in California and New York City. It’s nice to be in a smoke-free environment.”

He also cited health issues from secondhand smoke and health care costs related to smoking as reasons to look into the policy.

Ferrara said he just wants to find out if the idea is something residents are interested in.

“I smoke a cigar every once in a while, so I’m not on an anti-smoking crusade,” Ferrara said.

Charlie Thomas, owner of Ray’s Place in Kent, said he doesn’t think the referendum is a good idea. He said it would be bad for local restaurants and bars.

“It’s certainly an unlevel economic playing field,” Thomas said, pointing out that there are restaurants in neighboring cities where patrons can smoke and eat.

“It’s tough enough to do business today,” he said. “We are already a highly regulated business. It makes it harder when someone comes in and says customers can’t smoke. I don’t know what gives someone that right.”

Thomas said the government should stay out of it and let individuals decide whether to come to the restaurant or bar if the smoke bothers them.

Ferrara said, “Initially there would be an adverse effect on businesses, but the bar is such an integral part of the social scene” that the negative effects wouldn’t last.

“The urge to go to the bar would outweigh the ability to have a cigarette,” he said.

According to a poll in the Restaurant Report, an industry trade magazine, for every smoker a restaurant might lose, they stand to gain two non-smokers in return.

Aaron Bohannon, coordinator for the Portage County Tobacco Prevention Coalition, said when other cities have taken the non-smoking route, “It generally boils down to a rights issue and a health issue.”

It is definitely a health issue, he said

According to a press release from the organization Tobacco-Free Ohio, “As much as 468,000 tons of tobacco are burned indoors each year. Secondhand smoke contains more than 4,000 chemical compounds, 43 of which are known to cause cancer.”

Also, sitting behind someone smoking in a bar for two hours is comparable to smoking four cigarettes, and sitting in the non-smoking section of a restaurant for two hours is comparable to smoking one and a half cigarettes, according to a 2003 study from the University of California, Berkeley.

Bohannon said the policy would also be good for smokers, pointing out that 52 percent of smokers in Portage County said they want to quit in a survey conducted by the coalition.

“When municipalities go smoke-free, it helps people quit smoking,” he said.

Thomas said he has never had one complaint about smoke during the day or night in the 26 years he has been in business. He said Ray’s Place has non-smoking sections on both floors until 10 p.m., when food is no longer served. He also pointed out that the building has a good ventilation system.

However, according to the Tobacco-Free Ohio press release, “Attempts to control the toxic and cancer-causing elements of secondhand smoke by ventilation would require tornado-strength rates of airflow.”

Thomas said the after-10 p.m. crowd at Ray’s is mostly college students, and said he thinks there is a greater percentage of smokers than non-smokers who come to the bar at night.

“I’ve never had a student complain about the smoke and say they won’t come back,” he said. “Most of council wouldn’t come out at 10. Why should they legislate on this subject?”

Ferrara said before any action is taken, he wants council to talk to all interested parties, such as restaurant and bar owners.

“I don’t want to hurt their business,” he said. “I certainly want to enhance it.”

Ferrara said eventually the health department will give a presentation about the policy to council, but a date has not yet been set for this meeting. Ferrara said council will then come back for a motion to either enact the policy or make it a ballot issue in the next election.

Contact public affairs reporter Lindsay Wargo at [email protected].