At stroke of midnight, it's outside for smokers

Enforcement of ban to be on complaint basis

At midnight tonight, indoor smoking at most public places will become illegal in Lawrence.

Whether anybody stubs out their cigarettes at the stroke of midnight remains to be seen. And how strictly the law will be enforced is another question.

But smokers seem to be resigning themselves to the inevitable.

"Everybody's smoking a lot the next two days," said Sarah Clark, a smoker and barista at smoker-friendly Bourgeois Pig, 6 E. Ninth St. "While they still can."

Anti-smoking advocates, though, are ready to party. Clean Air Lawrence, the group that pressed for the ban, is encouraging its members to make a "special effort" to patronize newly smoke-free establishments.

"I'm looking forward to it," said Robert Campbell, a member of the group. "I think it's going to be a real positive experiment for the community, to appreciate a smoke-free space for socializing -- and more importantly, that people who are serving us are working in a smoke-free environment."

Mayor Mike Rundle said most Lawrence residents were eager for the ban.

"My sense is this is very popular -- I won't go so far as to say overwhelmingly popular," he said. "I'm definitely ready to put it to the test and get a couple of months under our belt of living with it."

Different than dogs?

The city's smoking ordinance, based on one in El Paso, Texas, would prohibit smoking "in all enclosed facilities within a place of employment without exception." Violation would be a misdemeanor crime; the penalty would be assessed against the bar or restaurant, with a $100 fine for the first violation.

Combined with smoking restrictions passed in 1987, the ordinance would ban smoking nearly everywhere in Lawrence except private homes, smoke shops, some hotel rooms and open-air patios like those already operating at Replay Lounge, 946 Mass., Free State Brewing Co., 636 Mass., and elsewhere across the city.

Enforcement of the ordinance will be the responsibility of Lawrence-Douglas County Fire & Medical, but there won't be any smoking patrols.

"We don't have inspection levels, enforcement levels, to enforce it 24-7," said Assistant City Manager Dave Corliss. "We don't for the old ordinance, we don't for the new ordinance."

Under the old ordinance, Corliss said, there have been roughly two complaints per year, and no citations issued.

Instead, officials said, they would mostly enforce the ordinance on a complaint basis. When complaints are received, the fire department will send out an inspector the next business day -- "or as soon thereafter possible," according to the City Hall Web site -- to discuss the alleged violation.

Campbell said he approved of the enforcement policy.

"It seems to be a pretty sensible way to start," he said. "There will be a period of adjustment for everyone. ... I've never thought of Lawrence as anything but a law-abiding community."

Dave Kingsley, who led the city task force that sparked the ban, suggested that compliance wouldn't be 100 percent.

"I'll bet there will be a bar or two around town that will" allow smokers, he said, "and nobody will care about it unless there's a complaint."

Debate not over

Phil Bradley, executive director of the Kansas Licensed Beverage Assn. and a leading opponent of the ban, agreed that bar and restaurant owners, who have feared a loss of business because of the ban, would comply.

"We're all going to comply with the law the best we can," he said Monday.

But they're going to continue fighting it.

A coalition of ban opponents is circulating a petition to force the ordinance to a citywide referendum. Petitioners must gather 3,764 signatures from registered Lawrence voters for the vote to be held; opponents said Monday that they had gathered at least 1,300 signatures since the campaign started earlier this month.

Monday night, Nathan Haley carried the petition down Massachusetts Street, buttonholing passersby -- not, Haley said, because he liked smoking, but "so that other people's rights aren't taken away." He said he had gathered 50 signatures during a quick stroll downtown.

Though smoking will be allowed on outdoor patios, city planning officials indicated Monday that applications to create outdoor dining have slowed. Jefferson's, 743 Mass., and Thai House, 724 Mass., both received City Commission approval for outdoor dining last week; Eighth Street Tap Room, 801 N.H., has applied to create an outdoor deck on the second floor of its downtown building.

At Bourgeois Pig, Clark said Tuesday she wasn't sure how business would be affected. But she, too, has resigned herself to smoking outside or not at all.

"At first I was pretty upset, but I've accepted it," she said. "It's not that big a deal, I guess; we still do have outdoor seating."


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.