Early on a weekday afternoon, Northland resident Pat Jenkins is having a drink and smoke at one of the few places in Kearney where you can do both indoors: Stables Grill.
Jenkins is gathered there with friends. While the freedom to smoke isn’t the sole reason the group is at Stables Grill, it ranks right up there, the group says.
Jenkins lives in Kansas City North, and won’t be able to vote on an upcoming proposal to ban smoking across all the city’s public places, including Stables. If she was a Kearney resident, Jenkins said she would cast a vote against the smoking ban.
“It’s a freedom of choice,” Jenkins said.
Jenkins said this initiative feels like a scolding from a disappointed parent.
A proposed Kearney smoking ban targets indoor smoking at Stables Grill, Fat Boyz Bar and Grill, and the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 5717.
The VFW Post personnel have been vocal critics of the proposed smoking ban.
Post patrons echoed Jenkins’ comments about personal freedom. Kearney area resident and nonsmoker Mark Zahm added that businesses should have a right to manage their patrons’ smoking how they please.
“It’s wrong. These are bar establishments: you come here to drink and smoke cigarettes,” Zahm said.
State legislation to curtail smoking, the Missouri Clean Indoor Act, classifies a restaurant or tavern seating more than 50 as a “public place,” venues in which the operator must provide a smoke-free area if tobacco use is permitted in the establishment.
Bars and taverns and bars seating fewer than 50, such as the VFW Post, are not considered a “public place” and are exempt from the state smoking.
There are other exceptions to the state’s smoking ban, like an exemption for businesses with a majority of sales from tobacco.
The proposed ordinance does away with all the above exemptions.
It extends the state’s smoking curtailment law by expanding the definition of a “public place” to any venue open to the public. The only exceptions are for patio areas designated as dedicated and partitioned smoking zones, up to a quarter of rooms within a hotel and private residences.
Kearney’s citywide smoking ban will appear on a ballot on Aug. 4. Of 21 restaurants in Kearney, only two permit smoking.
Add in the VFW Post and that’s three places that permit smoking indoors.
Citing the low numbers of venues that allow smoking within the building, opponents of the smoking ban say Kearney is already a de-facto smoke-free community.
Ward 1 Alderman and smoking ban opponent Gerri Spencer said the establishments in question are more oriented toward drinking.
“You probably shouldn’t be taking your children to them,” Spencer said.
A petition brought forth in May by 621 signatories forced the board to either take action on the issue or bring a smoking ban to a vote. The measure is being put to a vote due to the lack of consensus within the aldermen.
Ward 2 Alderman Dan Holt said he avoids the three places that allow smoking.
“If you go to Stables, there’s nights where you need a gas mask,” he said.
“You have to look at what’s good for the overall population,” Holt added.
Shawn Barber, Stables’ owner, said the restaurant’s decision to include a smoking section when it was created in 2001 never registered to him as at all significant.
“You’ve got remember, that was almost 15 years ago,” Barber said. “At the time, it wasn’t an issue.”
This will be the second time Barber is operating a bar in a city transitioning into a smoking ban. The first time was in Liberty, which passed an ordinance in 2009, two years before Barber closed The Pub House.
Barber said the smoking ban did not cause him to close his business in August 2011, but he said it did impact sales negatively.
Barber opened Conrad’s Restaurant and Alehouse in Liberty three months after. The new venue includes a patio where patrons can smoke.
Barber said he tries to stay removed from these discussions.
“My point of contention is to let the community decide,” Barber said. “All we’re trying to do is offer a good product at a good price.
The proposed ordinance also specifies the responsibilities the will befall people who operate what is designated a “public place,” a broadly defined class of locations that includes previously exempted limousines and taxis as well as hospitals, sports arenas, all workplaces and bars. Those duties include proper non-smoking signage, employee education and enforcement.
The ordinance’s violators will be fined up to $50.
The ordinance also creates a graduated fine system for consecutive violations capped at $500 to penalize employers who fail to meet the law’s requirements.
An affirmative vote for the smoking ban would compel the board of aldermen to codify the proposed language into the city’s ordinances. The ordinance would be enforceable 30 days after passage.
Excelsior Springs passed a smoking ban with language identical to Kearney’s in 2013.
Kansas City approved a similar smoking ban in 2008.
For Shawn Warfield, an organizer with advocacy group Northland Coalition, the smoking ban is less a matter of eliminating smoking in the existing venues but stemming its appearance in new venues.
“Kearney is one of the fastest growing cities in Missouri,” she said. “Even if we don’t have very many smoking places right now, new businesses are going to have that option, and we want to prevent that.”
The Kearney smoking ban is the work of the Northland Coalition’s Clay County arm, the Kearney-Hold CAN. To advance the ban, the group formed Clean Air Kearney, which has garnered support from 22 businesses and the Kearney school district. The group has campaigned in aldermen meetings since the spring for the city wide smoking ban.
Warfield said the VFW’s opposition to the ban is frustrating because they weighed in after the decision to place the ordinance on the ballot was made.
“By then, the work was pretty much done,” Warfield said. “We’d already done all the paperwork. The aldermen had already agreed on all the language.”