St. Joe County Council votes down stricter smoking ban proposal

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The St. Joseph County Council voted down a stricter smoking ban for the county's bars and restaurants.

Amid mounting pressure from anti-smoking advocates, the council held a meeting to consider the ban Tuesday night.

Even before the meeting, dozens of people in favor of a stricter ban demonstrated outside of the County-City building. Representatives from Tobacco Free St. Joseph County were on hand to tout new statistics from a survey of more than 600 people in the county that reveals 68% of people favor a stricter ordinance.

Inside, supporter of the status quo and of a new ordinance filled the seats. The meeting lasted more than three hours.

Both sides used strong language.

One business owner equated the ban to death:

"Please don't cut my business off, it will be a murder if you do it"," he said.

Another person said she had no problems with smokers. "A smoker has a right to smoke, they have that right, but their right ends where my lungs begin!" she said.

In the end, the Council voted down the ban 7-2.
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March 8, 2011 5 p.m.

Those who are pushing for a tougher St. Joseph County smoking ban will have a tough time getting the needed votes.

“Honestly, it’s been a little more difficult than I would have thought since we passed our ordinance five years ago, the City of Elkhart passed one that is more inclusive than ours, you know Michigan has passed one that’s more inclusive than ours, so I would have thought with that momentum right in our area here that this would have just been kind of a no brainer,” said Councilman Michael Kruk, (D) District E.

When St. Joseph County first passed a smoking ban in January of 2006, the measure allowed smoking to continue in bars and private clubs. The current proposal would do away with those exceptions.

“I’m hoping to get this ordinance passed and you know kind of complete what we started five years ago when we adopted a smoking ban then,” said Councilman Kruk. “We left out a lot of working people with that ordinance, just hoping we can finish it up and get everybody included and have healthy workplaces for everybody."

Although Kruk admits that getting the measure passed will be an “uphill climb.”

“The way it’s currently written, I don’t think I could support it today,” said Councilman Dale DeVon, (R) District C.

Those are harsh words from DeVon—who co-sponsored the 2006 smoking ban.

“Smoking is still legal and you know so we give adults the right to choose in areas, that’s in bars and age restricted places,’ DeVon said.

During lunch time at Frank’s Place in South Bend, half the building is designated smoking, while the other half is non smoking.

Today, business was substantially better on the non smoking side. “This is the future,” said owner Frank Linarello. “I mean the whole country is going non smoking and maybe it’s time.”

That’s exactly the kind of thinking that inspired Councilman Kruk to revisit St. Joseph County’s smoking ban.

While the proposal to expand the ban to bars and private clubs legally needs five council votes to pass—in this case—it will take six votes, or a two thirds majority, for an expanded ban to hold up.

“I don’t know if it’s going to go through the council or not, I hope it doesn’t, if it does, as commissioner, I’ll veto the smoking ordinance,” said St. Joseph County Commissioner Dave Thomas.

Thomas and fellow Commissioner Andrew Kostielney both said they would veto the expanded smoking measure if they get the chance. Councilman Robert Kovach said he was leaning toward support of a possible veto.

“You know certainly they have rights and I guess their rights would be not to patronize smoking establishments,” said Commissioner Thomas. “I see that as a fair compromise and that’s what we already have.”