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The lingering effects of the city's smoking ban

Alex Cooney

A fishbowl filled with complimentary cigarettes sits on the bar at Tonic the night before the 2007 smoking ban took effect.

March 26, 2009 | 12:00 a.m. CST

Standing outside of Lakota Coffee Company on a chilly day, Sarah Byrne, 21, smokes a cigarette with her friend Jaci Woodburn, 23. Her shaking hand brings the cigarette to her lips, her blue glove making the familiar movement a little awkward. She pulls the smoke into her mouth and takes another breath. The smoke moves down into her lungs and causes heaviness. She doesn’t notice that her heart rate and blood pressure might increase or that her pupils might dilate. She doesn’t realize that smoking causes the body to enter a fight-or-flight state, similar to the response of a gazelle cornered by a lion. Instead she feels relief with every exhalation. As she likes to put it, she can feel her body “stop frowning.”
Byrne and Woodburn have been forced to smoke outside any bar or restaurant in Columbia by a citywide ordinance that was passed in October 2006. The ban went into effect Jan. 9, 2007. According to the Columbia/Boone County Health Department, “The purpose of the ordinance is to promote public health by decreasing workers’ and citizens’ exposure to secondhand smoke and to create smoke-free environments for workers and for citizens through regulation.”
Two years later not all Columbia businesses are fired up about the ban. Steve Reynolds owns two area bars, and he says the ban is hindering his business. He thinks the ban is hypocritical. “What upsets me is it’s a legal substance,” he says. “If they’re so set on saving people’s lives, then stop selling cigarettes inside the city limits, too.”
Reynolds’ first bar, Cody’s, is in the city limits and has to comply with the smoking ban. Since the ban, Reynolds estimates that his business has dropped 40 percent. To compensate, he has invested about $5,000 to build a deck that accommodates the smoking customers, who by law are allowed to smoke outside in a designated area. His wife, Becky, who co-owns Cody’s, estimates that they have to pay about $100 a night to extra staff who enforce the ban. “At least every night someone says, ‘Why can’t we smoke? What are you going to do about it?’” she says.
To help offset the lost revenue, Reynolds and Travis Gregory, a lieutenant with the Columbia Fire Department, opened Jake’s. The bar and restaurant sits just outside of the city limits at the Lake of the Woods exit on Interstate 70, where the ban is not in effect.
Business has been good, Reynolds says, but not good enough to make up for the loss at Cody’s. Luckily, students are not the main customer base, so location is not an issue. The restaurant is filling a definite niche because many customers are angry they can no longer smoke in Columbia. Reynolds says his customers appreciate that at Jake’s they can order a beer and a burger and have a smoke.
On a Thursday night at Jake’s, the small, brightly lit nonsmoking section is empty. Customers are playing pool and sitting at the bar in the dimly lit smoking area. The high ceilings and six fans disperse the smoke, a part of the good ventilation system Reynolds says the bar has. At first, the odor is noticeable. But after a while, the smoke fades into the background, at least until you step outside into the fresh air.
When the ban was first implemented, some facilities allowed smoking because the smoker received the fine, which could be up to $200, Reynolds says. Now the owner gets fined the same amount. Reynolds has resigned to following the rules because the city is in control of his business license. “It’s bad business to tell me how to run my business,” he says. He thinks that the city should let the market decide — let someone else open a nonsmoking bar and see how it does.
Chris Flood, the owner of Campus Bar and Grill, agrees with Reynolds. Flood, who smoked for 10 years, recently quit because he had a daughter. He wants his employees to be healthy, but he doesn’t think that right should interfere with his business. He says that employees can choose to work in a smoking or nonsmoking environment, and if they work at a smoking bar, they know what they’re getting into. Financially, however, Campus Bar and Grill hasn’t suffered.
Craig Seymour, a bartender and manager at Jake’s, doesn’t mind going home every night smelling like smoke. “That’s what washing machines are for,” he says.
The ban aims to keep Seymour and other employees from being one of the 438,000 deaths attributed to smoking each year by the Centers for Disease Control. Chelsea Barr, a server at Harpo’s, loves working in a smoke-free bar. Before the ban, Harpo’s busiest nights were so smoky it was difficult to see. Barr counted down the days until the ban. “It’s nice to be able to walk through the crowd and breathe,” Barr says. She also says the ban hasn’t affected her paycheck or the customer’s attitudes. “I think customers actually like it a lot, too,” she says.
Some restaurants in Columbia chose to go smoke-free before the ban. The management at Flat Branch Brewery, including General Manager Lance Wood, decided that their customers would prefer a nonsmoking restaurant, and they banned smoking less than a year before the ordinance. Employees were enthusiastic.
In the 1940s, Humphrey Bogart and Rita Hayworth made smoking glamorous. That generation didn’t understand the associated health risks. In fact, it wasn’t until the Surgeon General released the first comprehensive report on smoking in 1964 that Americans changed the way they thought about smoking.
The CDC reported that in 2007, 43.4 million adults smoked cigarettes despite the Surgeon General’s warning, advertisements depicting rotting lungs and the long list of health risks.
Byrne had her first cigarette, a Nat Sherman, after a stressful day when she was 18. “It was disgusting,” she says. “It hurt.” But that didn’t stop her from getting addicted. “It’s definitely a ritual,” she says. “There are so many little joys that go along with smoking a cigarette.” Byrne relishes opening a fresh pack. She smokes her first cigarette of the day on her porch while she watches her neighborhood wake up.
Woodburn, an MU senior, only smokes when she’s drinking coffee or beer. She remembers her first cigarette at 15 tasting “dry and bitter, like sticking your head over a campfire and inhaling.” As a sophomore in college, her addiction took hold, and she became a regular smoker. “The idea of going out and having a beer and being able to talk to girlfriends, it was glamorous,” she says.
Linda Cooperstock, the public health planner for the Columbia/Boone County Department of Public Health and Human Services, says what the City Council passed is not actually a ban but a “Smoke-Free Work Site Ordinance.” The city wanted to extend the same protection to all employees. According to the American Journal of Public Health, there is a 24 percent increase in lung cancer risk among employees exposed to secondhand smoke in the workplace.
The Missouri Foundation for Health found that in 2003, 25.5 percent of the adult population in Boone County smoked. The BRFSS Report for April 2007 showed the percentage of smoking adults dropped to 18 percent. Although the numbers can’t be directly correlated to the ban, Cooperstock says that they do indicate a trend. “The better policies you have in place, the less smoking you have,” she says.
Many U.S. cities and states have passed a smoking ordinance. New York City banned smoking in 2002 and has also seen a drop in smokers. A study published in the American Journal of Public Health says that 140,000 New Yorkers quit smoking between 2002 and 2003.
Madison, Wis., went smoke-free in July 2005. A study released by The Burden of Tobacco, a collaboration of the University of Wisconsin, American Cancer Society and Wisconsin Division of Public Health, in 2000, estimated that Dane County had 66,050 adult smokers. However, in 2006 that number rose to 68,510. Susan Webb-Lukomski, a public health nurse, says Madison’s quit line, a toll-free help line for smokers, provides two weeks of free patches. “Most people don’t want to come to a class,” she says. They want to do it on their own.
The Columbia ordinance also calls for public education. Cooperstock says that just passing a ban would be ineffective, but offering smokers support will help more people comply with the ban. In January 2007, the MFFH granted Boone County $330,000 over two years to help 800 people with smoking cessation. The Department of Health offers four free counseling sessions and an eight-week supply of the nicotine patch. Cooperstock says the program has reached 1,270 Boone County residents, all of whom sought out the program on their own. “What this shows you is, when you have a policy in place, people do step forward to try to quit.” Out of 599 of those smokers who participated in a follow-up survey, 28 percent are still smoke-free.
Columbia smokers try to find ways around the ban. Becky Reynolds has lost five pool leagues at Cody’s — customers have migrated to Millersburg Pub and Pool so they can smoke. And organizations such as the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks can allow smoking in their facilities because they have a different type of permit, one that allows all private, nonprofit associations that applied for a smoking permit before April 1, 2006, to be exempt from the ban. Jeff Blackwood, Elks’ club manager, says that the membership of the club has almost doubled since February 2006. Although the Elks’ new facility southeast of the city opened a year before the ban, Blackwood thinks new members were attracted by the freedom to smoke. “The majority of people here are smokers,” he says.
Richard Walls Jr. was the mid-Missouri chapter president of the Missouri Restaurant Association when the ordinance was passed, and he also owns Boone Tavern on Walnut Street. He says that bar owners were against the ban, but restaurant owners felt differently. “It hurt bars a lot more economically,” he says. The association thinks that the decision to be smoke-free should be left up to the individual business, but Walls prefers that his restaurant is smoke-free. “It’s cleaner; it’s easier to manage,” he says. He’s gotten a few calls from local bar owners who have a problem with the ban. But he doesn’t think complaining will make much of a difference. “I don’t think it’s a fight worth fighting right now, especially in Columbia,” he says.
Some smokers do see the ban as positive. Despite their affinity for cigarettes, Byrne and Woodburn don’t enjoy smelling like a bar’s worth of smoke. Byrne says she doesn’t plan to smoke forever. She knew the health risks before she took her first puff. “It scared the crap out of me,” she says. But she saw a pattern in people around her — when they had a bad day, they smoked a cigarette.
Feeding her habit affects her nightlife, she says. She can play it safe and hang out at a friend’s apartment where she knows she can smoke, or she can go to a bar that makes smoking as easy as possible. She frequents Shakespeare’s because of the patio.
The health department’s smoking cessation grant ran out in December. But Cooperstock says the department will continue providing support until supplies are gone. Columbia doesn’t want to leave smokers out in the cold. Or does it?

A brief history of modern-day smoking

1902 Philip Morris and Co., Ltd. is incorporated in New York.
1943 Casablanca is released and glamorizes smoking.
1964 First Surgeon General’s report on smoking and health released.
1965 Packs must contain label “Caution: Smoking May be Hazardous to Your Health.”
1969 Cigarette ads are banned from TV and radio.
1995 Delta Airlines becomes the first airline to ban smoking on all flights.
2002 Smoking is banned in New York City, and the mandate becomes effective in 2003.
2007 Columbia’s smoking ordinance takes effect.

Meredith Clark, 19, lights a cigarette after having dinner. Outside, Clark dislikes having to face ...

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