Demopolis behind times on smoking ordinance

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 18, 2005

The Alabama Department of Public Health and the American Cancer Society don’t think very highly of Demopolis’s stance on public smoking. If one City Council member gets his wish, though, that may change in the future.

“If the businesses involved by an ordinance like that formed a plan, made a cooperative effort,” said District Five Councilman Jack Cooley, “and agreed on how to create a smokeless environment in restaurants, I would be 100% behind it.”

That such an ordinance does not yet exist drew the ire of Barry Riddle, the policy coordinator for the Department of Public Health’s Tobacco Prevention and Control Division. “There are more than forty known carcinogens in second-hand smoke,” he said. “This is about protecting employees. How many jobs should expose people to the danger of second-hand smoke?…We’re protecting people’s health.”

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According to records obtained by the ADPH and made available on their website, the Demopolis City Council has not addressed the issue of public smoking since passing a motion banning smoking in the library, coliseum, and Jones Recreation Center back in 1991. A survey created by the American Cancer Society, available on the same web page, labels Demopolis’s policies equal to only “Level I” public protection, two notches below what they believe to be safe policy.

The Demopolis City Council did, however, increase the city tax on tobacco products in May of last year, and in 2003 heard a petition to enact a no-smoking clause for restaurants within the city limits (much like the one endorsed by Cooley). The petition, which was signed by several Demopolis locations including Roberts Family Restaurant, La Gran Fiesta, and Mr. G’s, was eventually tabled over confusion of its impact on businesses like The Red Barn, which includes both a lounge and a family dining room.

Since then several communities in Alabama have passed anti-smoking ordinances, including Prattville, which requires establishments to declare themselves either completely smoke-free or smoke-filled. Athens passed an ordinance addressing the issue from the Demopolis 2003 petition, as it allows non-smoking restaurants to host smoking in a separated room meeting precise specifications.

The Prattville ordinance was praised by Riddle, who also noted with disappointment that, according to his records, anti-tobacco education grants out of his agency have not been awarded west of Dallas County in quite some time. A grant program started recently with funds from the Tobacco Settlement Agreement may change that, however, as Demopolis D.A.R.E. officer Marty Hoven said he was “very interested” in applying for funds for his program.

Regardless of whether smoking takes a hit in Demopolis on the educational or legal level, it would be good news to Cooley. “If we have a way to promote non-smoking,” he said, “I’d love to be behind it.”