Clarkson smoking ordinance smoldering

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By Rebecca Morris

A planned vote Monday on a city-wide public smoking ban in Clarkson had to be delayed due to state law.
The city commission was expected to take a second, and final, vote on an ordinance banning smoking in public, but city attorney Tom Goff stubbed that out. He said the commission couldn’t vote on the ordinance because it hadn’t been legally advertised prior to that night.
After deciding to postpone the vote to April to allow the proposal to be advertised, the commission spent nearly an hour debating the pros and cons of a smoking ban.
Clarkson is considering banning both smoking and the use of electronic cigarettes and vape pens in enclosed public places within the city. Lighting up also will be banned within 15 feet from the outside entrance or open windows of any public place.
The ordinance defines a public place as an enclosed area the general public is normally allowed to be in for business and non-business purposes.
People still would be able to smoke in their homes, designated “smoking” hotel and motel rooms, private clubs and designated areas in nursing homes and long-term care facilities. They also would be allowed to smoke in open-air public spaces, such as streets and parks.
Individuals violating the new law could face a $50 fine plus court costs. Businesses that allow smoking could face fines ranging from $100 to $250.
The commission approved the first reading of the ordinance on a 4-0 vote in February.
Mayor Bonnie Henderson, who was not at the Feb. 13 meeting due to a death in her family, seemed lukewarm on the idea of a smoking ban when it first was proposed in January, noting only three businesses in Clarkson favored it at that time.
Monday, she came down firmly on the ‘no’ side, saying most of the city’s businesses are opposed to the measure. Henderson said while most of the city’s retail operations don’t allow smoking inside their buildings, they indicated that’s their choice to make — not the city’s.
She said she’d spoken with 30 business owners, and 16 were against the policy.
Commissioner Ed Schott said that mirrored the comments he’s heard about the proposed ordinance, with people upset about what they see as government intrusion and the loss of personal rights.
This is the second time in less than a year that Clarkson has flirted with banning public smoking. In May, after saying it had been asked to consider a ban, the city placed notices in sewer/garbage bills and on its Facebook page asking residents to come by city hall and take a brief survey about the issue.
The survey asked if respondents would be in favor of a city-wide public smoking ban or leaving the decision up to individual business owners. At that time, most businesses in Clarkson already were smoke free and indicated they didn’t want government telling them what to do on their own property.
Wayne Meriwether, Twin Lakes Regional Medical Center CEO and chairman of the Population Health Committee, has been spearheading the smoking ban efforts.
The Population Health Committee is made up of representatives from the hospital, local manufacturing, the Grayson County School system, the Grayson County Health Department and the Kentucky Cancer Program. It unsuccessfully asked Grayson County Court to approve a countywide ban in January 2016, then approached Leitchfield. That city adopted a ban in March that went into effect in January.
Monday, he said the argument does come down to personal rights — one person’s right to breathe clean air opposed to another’s right to smoke indoors.
“I hear the rights issue often,” he told the commission, “but I think it’s more of a health issue.”  
He said while he appreciates Clarkson’s efforts to put its finger on the pulse of the business community, he thinks the overall community should be consulted as well.
A 2015 survey of county residents indicated widespread support for public smoking restrictions, Meriwether noted.
Commissioner Kay Gibson, who smokes, echoed her earlier support of the ban. She took her Clarkson restaurant, K’s Cafe, smoke free in early 2015 and has said the decision was “the right thing to do.”
She said banning public smoking would boost Clarkson’s image — an important factor as Clarkson tries to attract more tourism dollars.
“It’s an embarrassment that we allow smoking,” Gibson said. “Personally, even for our whole county, I want us to be viewed as progressive. ... I don’t want to be (viewed as) a backward city.”
Commissioner Joyce Bell, who voted in favor of the ban last month, said her mind hasn’t been changed.
“We need to compete with the Joneses,” she said, referring to larger surrounding cities that have smoking bans. “Just because we’re a small town doesn’t mean we can’t pass some of this legislation and let (those opposed) fuss.”
Commissioner Bob Vincent previously has said he’s “of two minds” about the ban but is supporting it in part because of the work TLRMC did to keep Kelley Beekeeping Co. in Clarkson and the potential the hospital could build a medical clinic in the city. He echoed those statements Monday, and noted that with only two or three businesses in Clarkson now allowing smoking, the ban wouldn’t change much.
The city is asking residents to contact commissioners or city hall with comments for or against the proposed ban.