Marana council looks to curb smoking - Tucson Local Media: Import

Marana council looks to curb smoking

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Posted: Tuesday, March 14, 2006 12:00 am

March 8, 2006 - About 4 p.m. last Wednesday, almost every patron inside the Old Father Inn had a cigarette lit or a hard pack and used ashtray nearby.

"Everyone in here smokes," said Marsha Silverman, who 10 years ago, bought the restaurant and bar on Ina Road with her husband Frank.

Because the Old Father Inn sells more alcohol than food - about 60 percent to 40 percent - the town of Marana's expected smoking curb probably won't affect the business.

Marana's town council on Feb. 28 gave staff the go-ahead to draft a smoking ordinance, based on Pima County's. Staff got to work the next morning.

"I've been drafting (the ordinance) since 6:30 this morning," Town Manager Mike Reuswaat said about 10 a.m. on Feb. 29.

The council planned to vote on the ordinance March 7.

Marana put the issue on the backburner for more than a year, while Oro Valley, Tucson and Pima County all approved smoking restrictions.

"I can't go anywhere without being asked, 'When's Marana gonna go non-smoking?'" Councilwoman Patti Comerford said. She doesn't want the town "to blow it around again" and take no action.

"We're the only ones left," she added.

Other council members echoed her sentiments.

Vice Mayor Herb Kai held out as the lone vote against drafting the ordinance.

"I'm a non-smoker and have a very sensitive nose," Kai explained. "I just don't go to these restaurants if I don't want to smell (smoke) all night."

Restaurant owners, not the town, should decide whether people can smoke, he argued.

"We need to be cautious on telling businesses what they can do," Kai said.

Councilmember Tim Escobedo agreed, but still voted to draft the ordinance.

"It's a person's choice," Escobedo said, adding that he sometimes fires up a cigar at the Fox & Hound Smokehouse and Tavern on La Cholla Boulevard.

"They have a good ventilation system," he said.

Frank and Marsha Silverman have already banned smoking in their restaurant, a good distance from the smoldering bar. The Old Father Inn has three "smoke eaters" that suck smoke up through a vent and out of the building.

While Pima County's ordinance states "No person shall smoke within any enclosed structure or vehicle," it allows for exceptions.

Marana's ordinance would not affect people who smoke in their homes, cars, designated hotel rooms, bowling alleys and pool halls. Other exemptions include retail tobacco stores, VFW posts, Elks clubs and performances that require smoking.

An "enclosed structure" also means an office building, unless just one person occupies that building. At Marana's town hall - a non-smoking building - employees smoke in an outside courtyard, where several ashtrays sit atop trashcans.

Bars - like the Old Father Inn - may allow smoking, if more than half of their annual sales tax comes from alcohol sales. Restaurants with adequate ventilation systems may have smoking sections at least 15 feet from smoke-free areas.

Anyone caught violating the smoking ordinance could face up to 30 days in jail and/or a $500 fine.

Restaurants that don't sell alcohol will suffer, said Harold Jaggers, manager of a Waffle House on Ina Road.

"Marana has screwed up," he proclaimed. "Half the employees here smoke, I smoke and we get a lot of smokers in here. I've been expecting this, but (Marana officials) should have told us about the meeting."

Only supporters of the smoking ordinance addressed council members last week. The council planned to open the floor to citizens again March 7.

Jaggers ran a Waffle House on Grant Road when the city of Tucson established its ordinance. Business plummeted about 20 percent as a result, he said.

Under the proposed ordinance, a restaurant can apply for a "hardship exception" if it can prove it lost at least 15 percent in non-alcoholic sales for two months because of the smoking restrictions.

If granted the exception, a restaurant can allow smoking for two years under the hardship rules.

A more restrictive state law could trump local ordinances, if approved by voters in November. Proponents of Smoke-Free Arizona must collect more than 122,000 signatures to get the initiative on the ballot. The proposed legislation allows for far fewer exemptions than any of the local ordinances.

Marana will allow smoking under the hardship variance until the results of the statewide initiative are known.

In March 2004, the Marana Chamber of Commerce sent surveys to 19 restaurants that allow smoking; just 11 responded.

Four restaurants thought smoking restrictions would have a "major positive" impact. Three claimed an ordinance would affect business negatively.

Two restaurants banned smoking after the survey, according to Chamber President Ed Stolmaker.

Chain restaurants seem to want the town to decide for them, he noted.

Located at the Interstate 10/Cortaro Road interchange, Cracker Barrel separates its smoking and non-smoking sections with a large latticed wall. However, tables on either side butt right up next to each other, and smoke easily filters through empty spaces in the wall.

Rather than spend thousands of dollars on renovations, Cracker Barrel probably will ditch its smoking section, should Marana adopt the ordinance.

"We've always gone non-smoking in communities where (a ban) has passed," spokesman Jim Taylor said last Wednesday, a day that saw two Cracker Barrel stores in Indianapolis ban smoking.

"We choose not to incur construction costs with extensive renovations. The general consensus is the guests appreciate our non-smoking stores," Taylor said.

People can still smoke in 370 out of 535 Cracker Barrel stores nationwide.

Two of the local Cracker Barrel's employees pleaded with council members last Tuesday to pass the smoking ordinance.

Adria Schwager has worked at the store for more than eight years. For five years, she carried plates of food through clouds of smoke and emptied ashtrays in the smoking section.

It inflamed her asthma and gave her bronchitis, Schwager said. Her doctor finally demanded she wait tables only in the non-smoking section.

Smoking restrictions "won't hurt business," said server and hostess Sherry Lopez. Texas Roadhouse - a non-smoking restaurant next to Cracker Barrel - always draws a crowd, she said.

Mayor Ed Honea eased the ladies' worries, almost predicting the approval of a Marana smoking ordinance.

"I think this will probably pass this council, and I think we'll probably catch some flak for it," the ex-smoker said. "I don't want to run anyone out of business."

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