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|A standing-room-only crowd at City Hall - many wearing bright blue "Smoke-Free Jackson" T-shirts - championed opposing sides of a smoking-ban debate Tuesday during a public hearing on proposed changes to a city ordinance
The proposed changes to the smoke-free ordinance would prohibit smoking in all Jackson bars and restaurants.
At least 15 Mississippi cities have made their local restaurants and bars smoke-free, including Aberdeen, Amory, Corinth, Flora, Greenwood, Hattiesburg, Hernando, Kosciusko, Mantachie, Mayersville, Metcalf, Oxford, Ridgeland, Starkville and Tupelo.
Several of those attending the hearing Tuesday argued business owners should have the right to choose whether their establishments are smoke-free. Others appealed to the council's emotions regarding the health of residents. Still others argued it's the government's role to protect people from secondhand smoke in such places.
The council is expected to vote on the issue in about a month, Planning Committee Chairwoman Margaret Barrett-Simon said. Another public hearing will be held before the smoking ban issue comes to a vote, she said.
Mike Cashion, president of the Mississippi Hospitality and Restaurant Association, spoke out against the measure, saying the issue is not about smokers' rights versus nonsmokers' rights but about the role the government should have in affecting a free-market system. He appealed to the American culture's sense of freedom of choice.
Cashion also lamented the lack of research on the impact a smoking ban would have on Jackson businesses.
"Some have a positive impact. Some have a negative impact. Some have a short-term impact and some a permanent impact," Cashion said. "But there's been no research to indicate what the impact would be in Jackson."
Several other restaurant and bar owners echoed Cashion's sentiments about a ban, each saying they allow smoking because their customers want it. Several feared a negative impact from a smoking ban.
Jackson resident Steve Loudermilk said on a personal level he hopes the city approves the smoking ban because of how smoking has potentially shortened his own life.
Loudermilk spoke to council members with an oxygen tank at his side. He needs the oxygen 24-hours-a-day he said because of the emphysema he suffers as the result of smoking for years.
"I understand their points," Loudermilk said of the restaurant and bar owners. "But we are killing our kids and everyone around us when we smoke."
In addition to Barrett-Simon, council members Marshand Crisler, Charles Tillman, Leslie McLemore and Jeff Weill attended the public hearing.
71% of Louisiana voters favor a local ordinance in their community that would ensure smoke-free workplaces, restaurants and public buildings.