tarkville, Tupelo, Oxford, Mantachie, Mayersville and Hattiesburg have adopted smoking bans in recent months, and more cities are looking at the idea. Citations were issued Friday to bars in Hattiesburg for violating that city’s new smoking policy that took effect January 1. "The committee will look at a statewide ban rather than 250 municipalities having their own laws," Nunnelee said. Some uniformity is needed, he said. However, casinos likely would be excluded.
States such as Arkansas, Georgia, Florida and Delaware have passed laws banning smoking in most public places. Some city leaders say a statewide ban in Mississippi makes sense. "I think a statewide ban is a better tool rather than each community having to reinvent the wheel," said Pontotoc Mayor Bill Rutledge, President of the Mississippi Municipal League.
Jackson City Councilman Leslie B. McLemore of Ward 2 said he supports a statewide ban. "I think just for the health of all of our citizens whether they’re in Jackson or Tishomingo," he said.
But some citizens see such a ban as more government interference. A smoker for decades before quitting in November, McPhail said the proposed state ban shouldn’t impact bars or restaurants. Several bar and restaurant owners in Tupelo filed suit seeking to block the Tupelo ordinance, but U.S. District Judge Mike Mills recently upheld the ordinance.
In Tupelo, Hattiesburg and other cities, fines can be levied for people and businesses refusing to comply. Tupelo City Council President Dick Hill is supportive of a statewide ban but has some reservations. He said he hopes to see Mississippi go smoke-free to enhance the general health of the state and decrease spiraling health-care costs.""If it will discourage people from smoking, it will be a plus," said Hill, a nonsmoker whose father was a longtime smoker and died of cancer at age 53.
Tupelo’s ban allows a few exceptions. Hotels and motels are allowed to have up to 20 percent of their rooms designated for smokers. As far as businesses, sports arenas and other public facilities, smokers outside must be at least 7.62 metres away from the front entrance and 3 metres from rear or side doorways.
Last year, the U.S. Surgeon General issued a report about the health dangers of second-hand smoke."The support is out there from everybody’s constituents," but it’s been an uphill battle at the Capitol, said legislator John Mayo. For the fifth year in a row, he’s filed a bill to ban smoking at restaurants.
Excluding casinos in the bill could remove one hurdle. "I don’t think any ban with casinos would have a chance of getting passed," he said. Should a statewide ban impact casinos, "it would have a detrimental effect" on business, said Bruce Nourse, vice president for public affairs at the Beau Rivage Resort and Casino in Biloxi.
Smokers constitute about 25 percent of the general public. Nourse estimates the percentage of customers at casinos mirrors national averages.He noted at Beau Rivage casino "an ample portion of our casino is nonsmoking."
The Senate committee also will look at the possibility of excluding bars, Nunnelee said.
At Tuesday’s hearing, senators will get input from the American Cancer Society, the American Lung Association, the Mississippi Restaurant Association and others.