Ridgeland quits, but in Vicksburg, smoke ’em if you got ’em|[06/20/07]

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 20, 2007

While Ridgeland became the latest Mississippi city to adopt a smoke-free ordinance Tuesday, Vicksburg Mayor Laurence Leyens said such a law won’t be considered here &#8220until it becomes a major issue.”

&#8220We’ve had a brief discussion about it but nothing of substance,” he said. &#8220The public needs to drive the process. If the community says this is what they want, then I don’t think it will be an issue of adopting it.”

Ridgeland’s smoking ordinance banning indoor smoking in all public buildings and workplaces, including restaurants, will go into effect July 19.

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The ordinance was approved Tuesday night by the board of aldermen.

The move comes a little more than a year after Starkville became the first of Mississippi’s major municipalities to approve a citywide smoking ban. Others across the state, such as Hattiesburg, Tupelo and Oxford, have followed.

&#8220I think that the board has made a very progressive move,” Ridgeland Mayor Gene McGee said after the vote.

Under the new ordinance, businesses will be required to post &#8220no smoking” signs and take up ashtrays.

People who smoke can be fined $50, while businesses that continue to allow smoking face fines up to $100 and may even have city licenses or permits suspended.

Leyens said approving a smoke-free ordinance for Vicksburg &#8220is not a slam-dunk deal.”

&#8220I don’t want to do it in a dictatorship-type mentality,” he said. &#8220We tried to do this once before during Robert Walker’s administration and it didn’t go very well.”

Some Vicksburg restaurants are smoke-free, but most retain designated smoking areas. River Region Medical Center has said it will expand its policy of no indoor smoking to no smoking anywhere on its property effective July 4. The River Region ban applies to employees, patients and visitors.

An additional factor here is the presence of four casinos, where smoking is prevalent. Even in legislative bills contemplating state limits on smoking, casinos have been exempted.

The Ridgeland ordinance will allow restaurants and bars to have some outdoor seating dedicated to smoking.

The ordinance also provides that a business would not be in violation of the ban if a &#8220good faith effort” is made to enforce the smoke-free policy.

&#8220It may be the progressive thing to do, but it is a very intrusive thing to do,” said Curtis Haley of Cock of the Walk restaurant. &#8220We as business people hopefully have the intuition to know what our customers want.”

Cock of the Walk, which opened in 1980, went smoke-free in its 425-seat dining area years ago but allows smoking in a separate lounge area. That area will now be off-limits to smoking under the approved ordinance.

Mike Ward, an attorney representing 16 Ridgeland eateries – including Shucker’s, The Crawfish Hut, Philip’s on the Rez, McB’s and the Parker House – pleaded with the board for more time to work out certain issues.

&#8220This could have a devastating impact on my clients,” he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.