By Karen Daniels
Two years seems like a long time for seven people to discuss, compromise, and reach an agreement for a smoking ban, but when you stop to consider how many people and businesses this will effect, and that the Stafford zoning ordinance took four years to pass, two years doesn’t seem so long. This is the time frame that Mayor Scarcella has proposed in order to study and mandate a smoking ban properly.
The Mayor explained how the passing of such an ordinance, if any, would work. He and City Council are going to discuss what they individually feel should go into the ordinance. They’re combined ideas would then be reviewed by the City Attorney, Art Pertile. After assessing the legalities, Pertile would then discuss his recommendations at the September 19 City Council meeting. Once the Mayor and Council have negotiated between good health and good business, another public hearing will be held in the future to discuss the policies that have been selected.
It is the Mayor’s suggestion to have all public facilities (restaurants, bars, lounges, retail) voluntarily elect to be non-smoking. Plaques donated by the City would be given to businesses participating in this so that patrons would know they were entering a smoke-free zone. He added that establishments designated with a 51% alcohol license by the TABC shall be exempt. Violators of the ordinance will be the individual, not the establishment, with a fine not to exceed $100. The Mayor stated, “We are not going to vilify or punish the business establishments.”
Other Council Members listed their suggestions covering a more comprehensive action (banning smoking everywhere except your home) to more a more limited measure (restaurants only) and everything in between. After several audience members commended the Mayor and Council for taking this action seriously, Police Chief Krahn was asked for his opinion of the enforcement of such a ban. Chief Krahn wasted no time telling the Council that he is not in favor of this type of ordinance. “This is a society and a public health problem. Not a police problem.”
The Chief explained how this would play out if a call came in to report a citizen was smoking. First of all, it would depend on the night. Murders, burglaries, vehicle accidents, criminal mischief, crimes of this nature have a higher priority ranking. But if an officer could make it out in a reasonable amount of time, the “alleged” violator would have had time to finish the cigarette. All they can do is ask the person if they were smoking. If they say no, police cannot perform a DNA or Breathalyzer test to see if they are lying. However, Chief Krahn assured the Mayor and Council that if and when a smoking ordinance is passed, he and his team will do their best to enforce it.