City council voted April 13 against a ban on smoking in restaurants and bars (see "Butt Out," issue of Feb. 23-March 1) and instead passed a milder set of restrictions proposed by Councilman David Crowley, whose family owns Crowley's Pub in Mount Adams and who has been a champion for the Greater Cincinnati Hospitality Coalition.
The new ordinance merely codified the regulations that the board of health already had in place but never before had the legislative heft to enforce. The result: All restaurants that allow smoking must still provide separate non-smoking areas, and bars are still left to their own discretion.
Crowley's compromise found support from many bar and restaurant owners who had previously opposed legislation of any kind. Only Councilman Christopher Smitherman unequivocally refused to vote for anything but a full smoking ban.
"My position is, I am looking for a 100 percent ban," he said. "People first, business second."
Not only does second-hand smoke kill, he said, it disproportionately affects people in the city's urban core. He singled out a cigarette company for criticism.
"Philip Morris has spent decades of marketing dollars in our urban core telling us that cigarettes don't kill, now that second-hand smoke doesn't kill," Smitherman said.
Vice Mayor Alicia Reece, who, as chair of council's Health Committee, spent more than a year studying a potential smoking ban, said she also supported a 100 percent ban but couldn't find enough council support.
Councilman David Pepper called the vote "by far one of the most difficult decisions" to come before council.
"My hope is that we get to some point with some narrow exceptions that we have pretty much every establishment without smoke," he said.
But the angle that most compelled Pepper was the regional viability of small businesses. As Crowley pointed out, Cincinnati is one of 49 municipalities in Hamilton County. The ban would place an undue burden on Cincinnati businesses whose patrons could simply cross over city limits to light up.
"The issue is not whether or not smoking is a health issue," Crowley said.
Speaker after speaker lined up before the vote.
Bar owners in particular spoke of the damage a ban would do to their business. One patron pointed out that nobody goes into a bar for her health. A college student, who said a restaurant job was her only employment option, asked for cleaner air to breathe while putting herself through school.
Though a complete smoking ban seems stalled at the city level -- unless groups like the Clean Indoor Air Coalition manage to put it on the next ballot --- the state legislature is debating various proposals.
Cincinnati business owners say that would at least level the playing ground north of the river, though smokers could still easily flee to Northern Kentucky.
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City council also narrowly passed Councilwoman Laketa Cole's motion to remove a controversial barricade erected by police on 13th Street last summer (see "To The Barricades," issue of March 9-15). The barricade was put up to block direct access from Interstate 471 for drivers seeking to buy drugs in the predominantly African-American neighborhood of Pendleton in Over-the-Rhine.
Opponents of the barricade pointed out that there wasn't enough community support to keep it up. In fact, many said there hadn't been enough community notification, let alone support, to erect it in the first place.
"How would you feel if you just woke up one day and there was a barricade at the top of your street?" Smitherman said.
"Good government at work," an audience member yelled after the vote.
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