Smoking ban opponents organize

Restaurant, bar owners begin plotting strategy

Back in the late 1990s, Shaun Trenholm started a bar, Second Wind, that catered to nonsmokers.

It promptly went out of business.

"We didn't make jack doo-dah," said Trenholm, who owns the more successful West Coast Saloon at 2222 Iowa, where smoking is allowed.

That's why news of a possible smoking ban in public places around Lawrence makes Trenholm nervous.

And he's not alone.

More than two dozen bar and restaurant owners showed up Tuesday at the Douglas County 4-H Fairgrounds to discuss the possible ban and to start organizing resistance.

"It's going to be contentious, whatever happens," said Chuck Magerl, owner of Free State Brewing Co., 636 Mass., and a member of the task force that will present options on smoking rules later this month to the Lawrence City Commission. "It's likely to be one of the most contentious issues that comes before this edition of the City Commission."

Magerl, who is opposed to a ban, helped organize Tuesday's meeting. He said it was for "informational purposes," but it was clear that other bar and restaurant owners who attended were ready to start lobbying against the ban.

Dave Boulter, owner of Henry's coffee shop, 11 E. Eighth St., said he had collected 600 signatures on a petition asking the City Commission to allow business owners to make their own choices regarding smoking rules.

"It's our choice whether to take those (tobacco-related health) risks," Boulter said. "There has to be an overwhelming reason for government to take away your freedom of choice."

Others in attendance said that bars and restaurants in towns that had adopted bans had lost business, and even been forced to close.

Rob Farha owns the smoke-free Bella Lounge, 925 Iowa, and The Wheel Cafe, a smoker-friendly bar at 507 W. 14th St.

"I don't have a line around the corner at the nonsmoking place," Farha said. "Why do we need a ban if we already have choices for people to make?"

Robert Campbell, chairman of Clean Air Lawrence, which supports a ban, did not attend the meeting. He later said he understood the business owners' concerns, but suggested that research from cities with smoking bans showed such worries were overblown.

"Basically, everything we see ... that (feared drop in business) simply doesn't materialize in most cases," Campbell said.

Lobbying starts

Magerl was skeptical.

"There are individuals who treat bar and restaurant owners as being of a lesser intelligence, as though we don't know how to run our business," Magerl said. "They don't know how competitive the industry is."

But Campbell said business concerns weren't the only factor to be decided. Society spends millions of dollars treating smoking-related illnesses each year.

"We think the larger issues of public health, public costs, should also be considered," Campbell said.

A ban isn't a done deal, however.

Mayor David Dunfield in April appointed the task force to study the issue. The task force consists of health professionals and people in business, including Magerl and Peach Madl, owner of The Sandbar, 117 E. Eighth St. The task force will not make a single recommendation, but rather present the City Commission with a range of options -- from staying with the status quo to a ban.

Dave Kingsley, chairman of the task force, did not return a call for comment Tuesday.

The task force will meet March 31 with the City Commission for a study session.

Phil Bradley, a former planning commissioner and now executive director of the Kansas Licensed Beverage Assn., told the restaurant and bar owners Tuesday that they should start their lobbying efforts on the issue.

"It's now time," he said, "for you to talk to your commissioners."

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