Fondren beefs up anti-smoking push

Published 12:08 pm Tuesday, February 15, 2011

A push by community health advocate Linda Fondren to expand smoking restrictions on public property reached the county board Monday with a few more specifics, but little movement on the effort from local government.

Fondren’s “sample ordinance” pitched to supervisors would prohibit smoking within 20 feet of doors to county-owned buildings, sports and recreation venues and at schools. State law already protects all elementary and high school grounds as Tobacco-Free Zones. The proposal also includes vehicles in its definition of “county-owned facilities.”

Fondren, one of 10 finalists chosen by CNN from a worldwide pool in the cable network’s 2010 Heroes Tribute for her anti-obesity efforts, said she crafted the ordinance after similar ones in Gulfport, Hattiesburg and Greenwood — the latter two of which have barred smoking in all public places, including restaurants and bars — and cited a 26 percent adult smoking rate for Warren County listed in an ongoing, nationwide behaviors study by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.

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“Smokers — they are respectful sometimes of their areas,” Fondren said. “They are. However, if they are, then this should not really harm them because 26 percent of them smoke…74 percent of us do not do it at all. That reason is reason enough that we should have areas where we are not subject to secondhand smoke.”

In December, Vicksburg officials said they’d weigh a stronger anti-smoking ordinance carefully, though Mayor Paul Winfield indicated it could encroach on privacy rights. Local restaurant operators have asked for more proof they wouldn’t lose revenue if smoking is banned completely, Fondren said Monday. Health and child care facilities also appear in Fondren’s draft. Privately owned River Region Medical Center barred smoking on its properties in 2007.

Enacting an ordinance of any kind on the county’s books requires supervisors to hold a public hearing. Supervisors appeared satisfied with the current set of regulations, which have barred smoking for years inside such places as the courthouse and Warren County-Vicksburg Public Library. Social settings at county-maintained space at Clear Creek Golf Course and boat landings at LeTourneau and Eagle Lake weren’t ruled out of the conversation if such an ordinance were put in place, supervisors said.

“We (barred it indoors) by board order — about as simple as it gets,” Board President Richard George said. “It’s effective. People understand it. We have taxpayers that smoke. When they get that tax receipt, it doesn’t say anything about smoking or not smoking. It just says, ‘Pay, or we’ll sell your property.’ The same people are coming in the building they already own. It doesn’t take very long to walk past somebody. We’ve not had any complaints about that.”

Sheriff’s deputies have been asked in a memo issued in recent weeks to refrain from smoking when in view of the public, Sheriff Martin Pace said, adding it applies mostly to non-clerical deputies who are assigned patrol cars. The definition excludes bailiffs who are assigned to the courthouse, Pace said.

“We went smoke-free inside the jail and the (sheriff’s office) building soon after I took office in 1996,” Pace said. “The overwhelming majority (of the deputies) are nonsmokers.”

Since 2002, 37 Mississippi cities have gone completely smoke-free in public places, including bars and restaurants, according to the Southern Science Research Center at Mississippi State University. Eleven others have done it partially, exempting bars and restaurants. Exemptions for casinos along the Gulf Coast and the Mississippi River from local smoking ordinances extend indoors.