Gadsden has now joined a growing number of cities in Alabama to ban smoking in most public places.
Tuesday, the city voted 4-1 in favor of the widespread ban. Council member Bill Stewart voted against it, while council president Bob Echols abstained. Another council member, Johnny Cannon, wasn't present for the vote.
The final changes in the controversial proposal included a 20-foot buffer zone around buildings, and left enforcement up to the Gadsden police. Earlier drafts would have allowed smokers to be seven feet away from building entrances and would have tasked the city's building inspector and fire marshal to enforce the law.
The ban takes effect at the end of January 2015 when most of the city's business licenses will be up for renewal.
Fines range from $100 for the first offense to $300 for the third offense.
The vote came after weeks of debate. Owners of bars like Plumber's Pub and Chestnut Station blasted the proposal, saying it was too invasive and would cost them customers.
"People who don't want to be around secondhand smoke don't have to come into our building," said Robin Townsend, manager of Plumber's Pub.
However, anti-smoking groups like the American Cancer Society and the American Lung Association say the issue was all about secondhand smoke and whether customers and employees should be forced to be around it. They also said businesses in other cities with similar bans--such as Birmingham and Anniston--reported very little customer dropoff.
During one of the hearings, one downtown business owner who sells clothing told a story about what happened when smokers congregated in front of the entrance to her business. She said smoke came under the door and through the doorway when a customer arrived or departed. When she asked the smokers to move, they actively refused, saying they had a right to smoke on that spot. She says they returned on successive days, and the smoke ruined her inventory.
At least two council members say her story influenced their vote, especially on the passage calling for a 20-foot buffer zone. Under the new law, that group of smokers would be fined.
"I think it represents a pragmatic approach, because again, it looks at how it's going to evolve over the years, and it looks at it from a practical standpoint," said council member Deverick Williams, who voted in favor of the ordinance.
Echols, who actually suffers from COPD after years of smoking himself, said he chose to abstain because he felt the earlier, 2007 ordinance was good enough as it was.
The ordinance exempts cigar bars like Old Havanna, which opened on Chestnut Street in 2013, and goes to great length to define a "cigar bar."
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