It's about to get a lot harder to light up in Birmingham. Today the city council passed a new comprehensive smoking ban that outlaws smoking in almost every public place and work environment.
The smoking ban passed Tuesday bans smoking in all public places, including bars and restaurants, and creates a buffer zone for no smoking within seven feet of the entrance to any building which worries bar owners who still want to let patrons smoke outside.
"The smoking ban as it is, I'm ok with for public places," said bar owner Bernie Smith. "But I think you need to look at what I am and what some of the other bars are in Southside, Lakeview, and how it directly affects us."
The ban does allow an exemption for cigar and hookah bars, but they have to get at least 80 percent of their sales from tobacco products, an effort to keep bars from creating a loophole in the ban.
More than 30 people spoke up about the ban before a vote, and the first person in line was Secretary of State Beth Chapman, an ex-smoker who lost her husband to lung disease just over a year ago.
"Sadly many people I know smoke, I understand their right to smoke," Chapman said. "But not at the expense of others who choose not to."
"I think it's good the city made a statement that we're not gonna tolerate secondhand smoke in public places," said Councilor Johnathan Austin, who helped sponsor the ban. "We are more concerned with the public safety and health of those citizens. My expense and not at the expense of the people who choose not to."
Austin said he hopes this vote gives new momentum to a push for a similar ban statewide, a possibility the state's health officer raised with Jefferson County's health department director.
"He said 'You know what? This might be a game changer for the whole state,'" said Dr. Mark Wilson. "If Birmingham goes, then the whole state may eventually go smoke-free. So you have a great opportunity here to be real leaders."
Enforcing the law will be up to business owners who face penalties if they're found allowing smoking in or around their businesses. Austin says he hopes with time, there will be less need for enforcement because everyone will be aware of the new rules of the air.
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