Doctors and health professionals voiced support for a countywide smoking ordinance Monday night, while restaurateurs, bartenders and smokers told Allen County commissioners to “butt out.” There were no real surprises but lots of passion at a packed public hearing in the City-County Building that lasted more than two hours. Those who support the proposed ordinance cited health studies linking secondhand smoke to illness. Those who are opposed cited economic concerns and advocated free enterprise and freedom of choice.
At issue is a smoking ordinance proposed by the commissioners that would be much stricter than the one now in effect in the city of Fort Wayne. The proposed ordinance would ban smoking in bars, restaurants and most public places countywide, with the exception of private clubs and some hotel rooms. Cities and towns within Allen County, including Fort Wayne, could opt out — or write even more restrictive ordinances.
Fort Wayne’s current ordinance requires restaurants to provide a separate, fully enclosed room for smokers. Many restaurants converted sections of their facilities for smokers several years ago. The proposed ordinance would render those conversions useless, as restaurants would be required to be completely smoke-free.
As the city’s ordinance stands now, patrons are still allowed to smoke in bars. Under the proposed ordinance, all bars in Allen County would have to be smoke-free. Many of the people who would have been appalled at the city’s ordinance 10 years ago were begging the commissioners Monday night to adopt an ordinance similar to the city’s.
“We feel that the city’s ban was a fair compromise,” said Don Marquardt.
Debbie Pieri, who has been with Piere’s Entertainment Center since its inception, came to the podium with an American flag and told commissioners that businesses such as hers felt as if they were fighting for freedom against their own local government.
Todd Smith, general manager at Piere’s, asked commissioners not to mess with the bars. “The nightlife in this town is all we have left.”
Mona Butler, who with her husband owns Showgirl I, expressed fear the smoking ordinance would cause a loss in revenue for all nightclub owners.
Mary Armstrong said the ordinance reminds her of communist Russia.
Paul Meridith, who is in the restaurant business, fears any smoking ban would drive patrons out of Allen County. He also noted that people go to bars of their own volition, saying, “When you walk into a smoking environment, you are voluntarily jeopardizing your health.”
Both Sam and Bud Hall, owners of Hall’s Restaurants, spoke against the ordinance. Bud Hall asked the commissioners to align the ordinance with the city’s.
Bob Carney, who owns Billy’s Downtown Zulu restaurant and gets a lot of business from Ohio, said, “I think I should have the choice to say whether or not people can smoke in my building.”
On the side supporting the ordinance were two Fort Wayne City Council members, John Crawford and Tom Hayhurst. Crawford is an oncologist; Hayhurst is a retired pulmonologist. Both spoke about how much more is known today about the effects of secondhand smoke. Hayhurst said in the early years of his practice, children would come in with respiratory illnesses, the causes of which were unknown. Today, those illnesses are often attributed to exposure to secondhand smoke, he said.
Bruce Hetrick, whose wife’s death from cancer was attributed to secondhand smoke, noted that “government has always restricted our rights when they interfere with someone else’s.”
Rita Bubb, a registered nurse, is a lung-cancer survivor who spoke in favor of the ordinance. “I had never been a smoker, but for most of my life, I had been around secondhand smoke.”
A dental hygienist, Nancy Mann, spoke of the periodontal disease associated with smoking. Several speakers associated with public-health groups referenced a recent report by the surgeon general that concluded there is no risk-free level of exposure to secondhand smoke.
Jonathan Ray, president of the Urban League, said while he supports personal choice, secondhand smoke “infringes on other people. That’s the bottom line.”
Many in the audience sported stickers saying they were against the ordinance. Applause, whistling and shouts of approval were heard after particularly impassioned speakers.
The three commissioners will take the testimony under advisement as they decide whether to modify, accept or reject the ordinance.
Public packs in for hearing on smoking ordinance