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Revised smoking ban still up in air: Commissioners set no timeline for reconsidering rules

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The county is rethinking a ban that prohibits smoking in all bars and private clubs but needs time to figure out how or if any changes will be made.

The Johnson County Board of Commissioners approved the ban this month that prohibits smoking in all public places and workplaces, including bars, private clubs and hotels, and on all county-owned or leased property.

But the commissioners have agreed to reconsider the ban after local bar owners said prohibiting smoking in their businesses would stop customers from coming in.

One private club owner said he saw an 80 percent decrease in revenue after prohibiting smoking in his bar, and other business owners said they would face the same. Business owners said they did not get any information about the ban before it was approved, and they have asked the commissioners to revise the ban to allow them to still allow smoking or to remove the ban entirely.

But a group that promotes healthy local initiatives wants commissioners to keep the ban as is and prohibit smoking in all public places so local workers won’t have to be around secondhand smoke.

The commissioners said they made the decision to approve the ban quickly and did not speak with local business owners to hear their side. Now that they have the option to revise it, the commissioners said they want to think about the ban and not make another quick decision.

Commissioners Tom Kite, Troy DeHart and Ron West, who recently joined the three-member board, said they plan to speak with bar owners who already have had to ban smoking, such as those in Franklin, where smoking has been banned in all public places since 2009.

But they will not make any decision on changing the ban until they think through what is best for both smokers and nonsmokers in the community.

“We don’t want to make another hasty decision,” Kite said.

The commissioners say they will think about changing the ban to better benefit local business owners as well as their employees, but they do not want to rescind the ban because they still want to prohibit smoking on county-owned property.

As of now, the ban will take effect Jan. 1.

Local business owners asked the commissioners to make a decision before the ban takes effect or to extend the timeline for when the ban will begin, but the commissioners said they are not ready to make any decisions on changing the date or revising the ban.

A group of local bar and private club owners asked the commissioners to exclude their businesses from the ban. They said the ban infringes on their rights to decide if they want to allow smoking and their customers’ rights to decide if they want to go to a bar where smoking is allowed.

“We fought for the right that you’re now trying to take away, and we’d appreciate you giving that back,” said Forrest Ankrom, third vice of the Edinburgh American Legion.

If the commissioners do not exclude them from the ban, the business owners presented other options for changing the ban, such as letting bars that already allow smoking to continue to do so or allowing bars to create ventilation rooms where smokers can be away from nonsmokers.

Some owners do not like that option because the ventilation systems are expensive to build.

The proposed grandfather clause would allow bars that have smoking now to continue to have smoking, but new bars that open or bars that change owners would not be allowed to have smoking.

Representatives from Partnership for a Healthier Johnson County said that option could be difficult for the county to monitor, because they would have to keep track of which bars changed owners and which were open before the ban took effect. Members of the organization also said the county should keep the ban in place because it will prevent the bar and private clubs’ employees from developing health disorders caused by secondhand smoke.

Jane Blessing, president of the organization, said people who are exposed to secondhand smoke have an up to 30 percent increased risk of developing coronary heart disease, and communities that have banned smoking in all public places have seen a decrease in the number of people who have heart attacks.

Commissioners plan to reconsider the ban but have not set a time for when they will make a decision on the ban or when the ban will be up for discussion again.

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