Lawmakers split on smoking ban

Published 1:11 am Sunday, February 1, 2009

Local legislators are split on support of a bill that would ban smoking in public places statewide.

State Rep. Alan Boothe (D-Troy) and Sen. Wendall Mitchell (D-Luverne) had opposing views on a bill that will come before the Legislature for the 11th time this year.

Vivian Davis Figures (D-Mobile), who is sponsoring the bill, will bring the legislation back on Tuesday, not only requesting a ban on smoking in public places but also in bars.

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Figures’ bill was passed by the Senate last year, but it failed to make it through the House.

Larry Fidel, the executive director of the Alabama Restaurant Association, said that the ARA will support any smoking ban that encompasses both restaurants and bars.

“Our board has supported a smoking ban across the state as long as it is uniform,” Fidel said. “We have to be sure that a level playing field is created between restaurants and bars. Non-smoking restaurants often lose business from bars that allow smoking.”

Fidel said that the ARA has tried to work with Figures on the bill in the past, but each time the attempt has been unsuccessful.

“Banning smoking in bars in addition to banning smoking in restaurants is a non-negotiable point for us,” Fidel said.

Boothe said he acknowledges the virtue of the bill, but doesn’t know if he can support it.

“I’m not a smoker, and I certainly know that smoking hurts a lot of people,” Boothe said. “Figures has introduced this bill several times, but local governments already have the authority to ban smoking in their towns.”

Boothe said he believes the bar ban will cause the bill to receive more opposition, especially with the current economy.

“I think the bar ban will cause some issues with people,” Boothe said. “I couldn’t very well vote for a bill that had the possibility to negatively affect businesses during the current economic situation.”

Mitchell, on the other hand, said he strongly supports the anti-smoking bill.

“I have voted for it ever since it has been brought up. In fact, I’m a co-sponsor of the bill,” Mitchell said. “I feel good about the bill this year. From a statewide perspective this could be very important.

“I want to see Alabama catch up with the rest of the nation.”

Alabama is one of 20 states that does not currently have a statewide smoking ban.

“No man is an island,” said Mitchell “When the choices of one start affecting the health of others, then there should be some restrictions put in place”

In January of 2007 a smoking ban became effective in Troy.

Troy City Clerk Alton Starling said the ban was passed very peacefully.

“We received no opposition, but we did leave bars out of the equation,” Starling said. “We allow a smoking section in restaurants but it must be in a separate building with a different air conditioning system than the main building.”