Half-Way Isn't Enough

A city-wide smoking ban extending to all restaurants without a "stand-alone" bar barely survived the city council last month. Before deciding on the partial ban, members voted down two different versions of the ban, including a more complete ban on smoking in all businesses within city limits, including bars.

Seeing that the ordinance change was heading for death, some council members supporting the total ban joined the partial-ban faction and passed the less comprehensive measure after about an hour of debate.

The result: a ban that only covers restaurants whose food sales account for more than 25 percent of their revenues—er, that is, unless it doesn't. The ban does not appear to apply to restaurants (as defined above) with a bar section that does not share an entryway or indoor area with the restaurant section.

Confused, yet? Let's keep going. Businesses whose beverage sales are higher than 25 percent of the business revenue (meaning bars) are exempt from the smoking ban—even though such an establishment would technically be illegal under state law.

The whole thing is marvelously dotty. Restaurants that make good money selling both alcohol and food now must either prohibit smoking entirely, or build a big wall between the scowling bartender and the rest of the diners. Good thing the council gave them until February to finish the hammering.

Some say a city-wide ban on smoking in both restaurants and bars would have been the easier way to do it. It probably would have ended a lot of confusion and likely would have had little impact on the restaurants in question—at least that's what business owners in smoke-free Ridgeland say.

Some council members feared putting yet another rock in the path of the black-and-bruised Farish Street Entertainment District, but Beale Street up in Memphis is already a smoke-free environment thanks to a Memphis city ordinance, and it's doing just fine.

The way the council has it now, restaurant owners can stare and mutter with envy at the local beer bars with crappy chili-cheese fries (or, worse, a "bar" in technical violation of state law), while deciding whether to demand smokers put out their butts or separate their dining areas with hundreds of thousands of dollars in new construction.

Some local restaurants will complain, and with good reason. This doesn't even include the night-clubbers who might have enjoyed going to a show without taking the stink of the club back home in their hair and clothes. The council could have spared us all the head-spinning complexities and given us a simple all-out ban—fewer holes and fewer questions. Going halfway really wasn't enough this time.


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