NICHOLASVILLE — After two years of off-and-on discussion, elected officials in Nicholasville, Wilmore and Jessamine County are moving closer to votes on smoking bans later this year.
A proposed ordinance to be discussed Tuesday by the three governments would prohibit smoking inside, or near entrances of, all enclosed places and places of employment, including restaurants, and at outdoor stadiums and arenas. Bars, however, would be exempt from the ban, and that upsets a coordinator for the Smoke-Free Jessamine County Coalition.
Susanna Moberly, a registered nurse with the group that promotes smoke-free policies, said she is disappointed that a committee of local elected officials who drafted the ordinance has "gone against our recommendation and decided to have exemptions for bars and cigar bars."
The Jessamine ordinance initially was patterned after Ashland's, whose 2006 law was considered by smoke-free proponents to be one of the strongest in the state. But recent amendments have watered down the Jessamine proposal, Moberly said.
"They've changed a strong er ordinance to exclude certain words and phrases to make it a weaker ordinance," Moberly said. "We're very upset with that as a coalition."
Elected officials and the chairman of the Smoke-Free Committee that wrote the ordinance said the bar exemption was put into the draft so existing businesses, such as a cigar bar in Brannon Crossing shopping center, would not be forced to close.
"We're not going to put anybody out of business," said Terry Meckstroth, a Jessamine County Fiscal Court magistrate who chaired the ordinance committee, which is comprised of elected officials from the three local governments.
"I think the committee felt, 'Let's get something that everybody can live with right now,'" Meckstroth said. Then, if there's a desire to revisit the issue, a stronger ordinance could be passed later, he said.
Even though the ordinance would exempt his business, Jacob Glancy of Jake's Cigar Bar and Lounge, 263 East Brannon Road, said he thinks the proposal "is a horrible invasion of a business owner's rights."
Representatives of the Nicholasville City Commission, Wilmore City Council and Jessamine County Fiscal Court are scheduled to discuss the draft ordinance at a joint meeting at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the EMS Station on U.S. 68.
Bars aren't the only exemption in the proposed ordinance, a copy of which was obtained from Jessamine County Judge-Executive Neal Cassity. Smoking also would be allowed in private residences, except when they are used as a child care, adult day care or health care facility; hotel and motel rooms designated for smoking; retail tobacco stores; private clubs; and private functions at otherwise regulated locations.
The ordinance says bars that wish to declare themselves smoke-free could do so. Smoking ordinances in Henderson and Pikeville contain similar exemptions for bars.
A person who smokes in an area where smoking is prohibited would be fined $50. A person who owns, manages, operates or otherwise controls a public place or place of employment and fails to comply with the ordinance would be fined $50 for the first violation, $100 for a second violation within one year and $250 for each additional violation within one year. Each of the governments would designate the agency responsible for enforcement.
Elected officials anticipate that the three local governments will vote separately on the ordinance during regularly scheduled meetings later this year. The draft ordinance does not set a date when the ban would take effect because that will be left up to the individual governments, which each may tweak the ordinance.
Cassity predicts that fiscal court will adopt some form of the smoking ordinance. He has not heard opposition from the public.
"I haven't had any complaints on it," Cassity said. "They know we've been working on it."
Likewise, Nicholasville Mayor Russ Meyer said he anticipates that the Nicholasville City Commission will pass some sort of smoking ordinance.
The Wilmore City Council's vote appears more uncertain, particularly after three council members recently expressed concerns about restrictions on businesses and individuals. Mayor Harold Rainwater said if the council splits 3-3, he probably would break the tie by voting for the ordinance's approval.
"I'm personally still leaning that I would vote for it" unless there was massive opposition from Wilmore residents, Rainwater said.
"I'm not trying to be a dictator on this, but I just feel this is an issue where we need to be," he said.
Rainwater noted that Jessamine County is still a largely agricultural county and that farming heritage exerts a strong tug against a smoking ban. The county ranks 18th in the state in total cash receipts for crops and livestock, according to the Kentucky Agricultural Statistics Service, but ranks 48th in burley tobacco production, down from 35th in the late 1990s.
Despite that rural background, many places in Jessamine already have adopted smoke-free policies.
For example, Jessamine County Schools rang in 2011 with a smoking ban in effect 24 hours a day, seven days a week on any district property for students, staff and visitors. Before Jan. 1, the ban had been in effect only during the school day.
More than 50 restaurants in Jessamine are smoke-free, according to the Smoke-Free Jessamine County Coalition, but more than a dozen others, including Frisch's Big Boy and Waffle House, allow patrons to light up.
JD Legends, a restaurant and bowling alley in Nicholasville, had considered going smoke-free but has put that on hold to see what happens with the proposed ordinance, said manager Helene "Jersey" Taylor. She said non-smokers tell her they would patronize the business if it wasn't so "smoky" now.
Much ado about nothing
On Thursday night, Keith Anson enjoyed a smoke at Jake's Cigar Bar. Anson, who owns a private cigar club in Louisville, said the ordinance is "much ado about nothing" if so many businesses are already smoke-free.
"Why come on top of it with something that is not even required?" Anson said. "I think it kind of oversteps common sense. ... If you're going to exempt all the places where people expect to smoke anyway, then why have it?"
Anson acknowledged that "I like to go out to eat and I don't like there to be smoke when I'm eating. So I fully understand that line of thinking. But it should still be up to the discretion of that business owner."
Many would disagree. In a 2006 survey conducted by the University of Kentucky Research Center, 59 percent of respondents said Jessamine County should adopt a smoking ban in all public buildings, including restaurants and bars.
Business in Lexington's bars and restaurants has remained stable since the city's comprehensive smoke-free law took effect on April 27, 2004. A UK study released in 2005 found that restaurant employment increased, while the number of bar employees remained the same.
Madison, Clark and Woodford counties have smoking bans imposed not by governments but through indoor air regulations adopted by the local boards of health. (Shana Peterson, a health educator with the Jessamine County Health Department, said that department sees its role as an educational resource and "not as a lobbyist.")
To date, 28 cities and/or counties in Kentucky have communitywide smoke-free ordinances or regulations, according to the Kentucky Center for Smoke-free Policy.
Kenton County has an ordinance scheduled to take effect April 15, and Bowling Green has one scheduled to take effect April 28.
Campbell County in Northern Kentucky had an ordinance that was to take effect April 15. But the fiscal court voted Wednesday to end the ban before it took effect.
Meanwhile, House Bill 193, the bill that would implement a statewide smoking ban in workplaces and public places — including restaurants, bars, hotels and bingo halls — has seen no action since it was posted to the Health and Welfare Committee on Feb. 7. State Rep. Susan Westrom, D-Lexington, the bill's primary sponsor, said Jan. 6 that it would be a miracle if the state legislature passed the bill this year.