Council Wants to Give Sedalia's Smoke-Free Ordinance More Time

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SEDALIA - The Sedalia City Council decided to give the city's recent smoke-free ordinance more time before voting on its fate.

At a meeting Saturday morning, the council offered four options from which to decide: leaving the ordinance as is, excluding bars from the ordinance, including private clubs in the ordinance or completely repealing the entire ordinance.

The council split their vote 4-4 with half voting to exclude bars through a definition change and the other half voting to leave the ordinance as it stands.  Mayor Elaine Horn made the final decision to direct the council to leave the law alone for the time being and give businesses more time to adapt to the change. 

The Smoke-Free Ordinance took effect September 1 and banned all smoking in all city buildings except private clubs such as the local Elks and Moose Lodges. Many bar owners complained to the council that allowing patrons to smoke at private clubs leaves public bars at a disadvantage, especially is membership rules are not enforced.

"It's not a level playing field," said Sedalia resident Michael Gross. "I know a lot of people who have just rung the doorbell at clubs are let right in, even if they aren't a member. If anybody can go drink and smoke at those clubs, why would anybody go to one of our bars where they can't smoke?"

Becca La Strada, Sedalia Second Ward Councilwoman, offered the option of defining a bar as an establishment that makes at least 60 percent of its revenue from drink sales. The option also meant permitting those businesses to allow smoking. 

"We've already lost one bar," La Strada said. "I received a call yesterday from a bar owner who said they would have to close if the ban wasn't lifted. I've done my homework on this issue and I don't want to see people lose their jobs and businesses shutting down."

More than 60 citizens sat in on the council's discussion.  Though public discussion was not allowed, many made their opinions clear throughout the meeting and afterwards.

"A bar is the only place where you have a choice to go in," said local bar owner Chuck Wonsing. "You go to restaurants because you need to it. If your washer or dryer breaks, you have to go to the laundromat.  You go to the gas station when you need gas. But you don't need to go to a bar.  You have a choice. Just like I should have a choice to decided whether or not I want to allow smoking." 

While many at the meeting hoped to see the smoking ban lifted, there were some who hoped to see the council stand strong behind their initial decision. 

"We do see that smoke-free ordinances for public places do have a solid public health benefit," said Stan Cowan, a research aid for the University of Missouri School of Medicine. "This is a preventable air pollutant that can be easily removed. People do not need to be exposed to this as a condition of employment."

Cowan said studies of communities with smoke-free ordinances on average see a 17 percent decrease in heart attack related hospitalizations. 

Amanda Petelin, field government relations director for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, was also in attendance Saturday morning and said she supported the city council's decision to make the city smoke-free.

"It's really important that we protect all employees and customers and dangers of second hand smoke," Petelin said. "A study done by the Center for Disease Control looked at eleven Missouri cities that adopted smoke-free ordinances and eight of the eleven, after a few quarters of taxable sales revenue actually had an increase in revenue." 

The Sedalia City Council will next meet October 21 but the ordinance is not expected to be on the agenda. 

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