Bars may be exempt with proper ventilation
By Seann McAnally
Darrah Reece lives in south Kansas City, where smoking isn't allowed in bars and restaurants. So when she'd like to enjoy a beer and a cigarette with friends, she goes to Grandview.
But not for much longer.
The Grandview Board of Aldermen is expected to pass a smoking ban at its May 26 regular session. The board discussed the issue once last year, and it was recently brought up again by aldermen Joe Runions and Leonard Jones. They, along with aldermen Brent Steeno and John Maloney, said they will vote for the ban. Alderman Jim Crain was still in fact-finding mode at press time, and Alderwoman Annette Turnbaugh said she will vote against the ban. If the aldermen vote the way they say they will, it won't matter how Crain ends up voting - a ban has the votes to pass.
The ban would affect all public and commercial indoor spaces - that is, everything but private homes and fraternal clubs - in Grandview. Bars would be exempt, but only if they installed ventilation systems that would completely remove smoke from the building - and some aldermen worry the price tag for that could be too steep for some Grandview bars.
If her favorite watering hole, the Highlander, goes smokeless, that means the end of trips to Grandview for Reece.
"I only come here so I can smoke," she said. "I can understand it, if there's food being served, or children, but in a regular bar, where there are no children, it's not fair. It's not right. It wasn't right in Kansas City and it's not right here."
Most elected officials disagree, however. At the board's work session, city staff circulated an editorial in the Kansas City Star that graded all Metro cities for their smoking ordinances. Grandview got a "double F," and its leaders were said to have "fumbled" and offered "lame excuses" for failing to pass a ban.
That's no good when Grandview is trying to change its image to attract development, said Runions. Grandview and Raytown are the only cities south of the river in the KC Metro area that have not adopted a ban. Runions said it's time for Grandview to "get in step."
"Everybody's already done it," Runions said. "We've been talking about wanting to improve Grandview's image, and being a smoking city is not the way for us to do it."
Crain said he wrestled with the issue.
"I don't like big government, and I don't think the government needs to tell people how to run their businesses," he said. "But this is a health issue. It's a public safety issue. I wish that businesses would voluntarily ban smoking."
Crain said he would like to patronize local Grandview restaurants, but he is bothered by smoke.
"I really don't go to restaurants as often as we'd like because of it," Crain said.
Crain knows the dangers of smoking first-hand. He had polyps removed from his larynx some 30 years ago.
"The last time I had a cigarette was at 11 a.m. on July 5th, 1980," he said, adding that he quit cold turkey. "I was pretty hard to live with for a while."
He said he is concerned that Grandview's four bars would incur too great a cost if they had to install new ventilation systems before they could allow smoking.
"I could support something that just left bars alone," he said. "But I want all the possible facts before I make any decisions. I want to know how much it's going to cost. Is it $500 or $50,000?"
Shirley Van Black, owner of Shirley's Family Restaurant, said she has bigger worries than a smoking ban, saying parking restrictions on trucks and trailers in her lot, and a poor economy in general, are already hurting her business.
"These are hard times anyway...I think a smoking ban would have an effect on us, I really do. But I don't think it's going to be significant," she said. "We may have to put a smoking booth on the sidewalk," she added, laughing.
Mayor Steve Dennis said he was letting the board take the lead on this issue, because, as mayor, he is no longer a voting member. He said he is conflicted by the issue, but that in the end, health and safety must win out.
"This has been a tough one for me," Dennis said. "But the sentiment of the board is that this is a public health issue. I think business owners should be allowed to run their business however they want, without government interference. It's not our role to get involved in every detail. But this particular issue has become more of a public safety issue, and that's when we do intervene. In the end, what we want is for business owners to do what's best to promote safety and health in our community."
Several aldermen and city officials said some restaurant owners and managers have privately encouraged them to adopt a ban, because they didn't like smoking but wanted the government to bear the blame, should customers become disgruntled.
In the end, said Cory Smith, city administrator, a ban was more-or-less inevitable.
"Of all the cities in the Metro area, only four allow smoking, only two of those are south of the river, and one of those is us," Smith said. He opined that statewide bans, such as the one in Kansas, will someday be common, and have already been proposed for Missouri.
"Pretty soon," he said, "you won't be able to smoke anywhere."