4,600 cities nationwide restrict smoking in public places

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Some groups would like to see Southeast Missouri Hospital's smoke-free initiative expanded. Tara Kennard of the American Cancer Society's Cape Girardeau office hopes the hospital's move is a step toward a smoke-free society.

She pointed to the Missouri Tobacco Initiative on November's ballot, which proposes to raise the cigarette tax by 470 percent as the group's top priority. If approved, the initiative would raise the average cost of a pack of cigarettes by 80 cents.

"The ultimate goal is to eliminate tobacco and tobacco use. It's a goal to have workplaces, restaurants and public places that are tobacco-free. We think it's now a good possibility," she said.

In some nearby cities, the possibility is close to reality. For the second time in a year, Paducah, Ky., city commissioners are weighing a mandatory indoor smoking ban in public places. The move is being driven by a second-hand smoke study conducted by a local doctor showing unhealthy levels of smoke at 11 local businesses. In Carbondale, Ill., a coalition is seeking to make the town smoke-free. All in all, 4,600 cities nationwide now restrict smoking in all public places.

Is Cape Girardeau next? Mayor Jay Knudtson says he believes it's best to wait until the public is ready.

"I do believe there will be a time when we as a city are a smoke-free environment," he said. "But right now, this city council has addressed issues with pets and garage sales, so now is probably the time to back off a little. Because if you want to talk about an issue that will conjure up great passion and animosity, it's the smoking issue."

Knudtson thinks the best solution would at the state level. Nationwide, 13 states have banned smoking in all bars, restaurants and workplaces.

Some restaurants are taking matters into their own hands. On Monday, Stooges at 507 W. Main St. in Jackson took the plunge and became a smoke-free establishment. Co-owner Ron Cook said a June warning by U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona declaring no level of second-hand smoke safe made the decision an easy one.

"I know myself, I don't appreciate going out to dine and being placed next to someone who smokes. There are different sections, but it seems like there's only a thin piece of latticework dividing them," said Cook. "Today was probably the busiest Monday lunch we've had this year, and I don't think it's a coincidence."

Cook said the feedback from customers has been "tremendously positive." He said the restaurant has attracted sit-down customers who had previously only ordered takeout. "It's just an issue that's so much on the public's mind right now," he said.

Last week, Marriott Hotels announced it will ban smoking from all rooms and public areas of its 2,300-plus hotels in the United States and Canada beginning in September.

-- TJ GREANEY

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