The Farmington City Council is weighing the pros and cons of an ordinance that would place on the November ballot the question of whether or not the city should become a smoke-free community.
The ordinance is up for council action at tonight’s meeting. During the July 9 council meeting, members of the council and the mayor shared their position on the measure.
The first to speak was Ward I Councilman Larry Forsythe. Following the first public hearing in May, Forsythe expressed he would support putting the ordinance before the voters although — as a registered voter — he would vote against the November ballot issue.
In July, Forsythe stated he had changed his stance and would vote against placing the ordinance on the ballot.
“I think if (a smoking ban) is regulated by the owner of the establishment … if the owner chooses to let people (smoke or not smoke) in his establishment and he loses business, that is his problem,” Forsythe explained, adding an individual has the right to choose whether patronizing an establishment where smoking is allowed.
Ward II Councilman John Crouch told the council he “concurred” with Forsythe.
“I think it’s a matter of property rights. If I own a piece of property, I can make the decision,” Crouch said, adding public education on the dangers of smoking leading many local eateries enacting no-smoking policies on their own.
Crouch said he was speaking as a “lifelong non-smoker” and a “pioneer in non-smoking work places”, stating his CPA firm has been a no-smoking establishment since it was founded.
“I value property rights and I value keeping government out of things that can be settled by the market more than I value this issue,” he said.
Ward I Councilman John Robinson also indicated he would vote against the ordinance.
Ward III Councilman Dennis Smith expressed he was in favor of placing the ordinance on the November ballot to allow the citizens the right to make the decision.
“Whether or not you are in favor of the smoking ordinance, the citizens of Farmington have stated for a number of years now they would like to see a smoking ordinance in the city,” Smith said. “I think it’s our job as council members to give that opportunity to the citizens to make that decision.
“Not allowing this to go forward for the people to vote on is denying them the choice to make that decision for the city they live in.”
Councilman Darrel Holdman expressed his agreement with fellow ward III representative.
“This is not the first time we’ve tried this,” Holdman said, referring to past efforts by the council to enact a smoking ban. “But, it’s the first time we’ve tried it and put it back to the voters who asked for it.”
Crouch asked where would giving the voters the opportunity to decide the rights of property end.
“I’m not sure where it’s headed. But, I think property rights are property rights and I’m not sure where the voters in Farmington have the right to tell me what to do with my property as long as I’m not interfering with the rest of their rights,” Crouch said.
Ward II Councilwoman Lynn Crites said she understands both sides of the issue.
“If you pay for a piece of property, you want to be able to do with it what you want. But, I’ve seen the surveys and results and they’ve been asking for this ordinance for several years,” she said.
Ward IV Councilman Garett Boatright compared the ordinance to regulations put in place to ensure food safety preparations.
“Some of them are overbearing, but some are there for a certain purpose,” he said. “Smoking is essentially poisoning someone. If I were to light up a cigarette, that would affect everyone in this room.
“That’s infringing upon your rights and the rights of everyone … my view is this is a simple regulation on a public business.”
Mayor Mit Landrum concluded the discussion by saying the discussion on a smoking ban has a dimension that goes “beyond property rights.”
“This has to do with life and death,” Landrum said, sharing the story of his father’s death from emphysema and noting the cost of insurance premiums going to pay for smoking-related illnesses.
“It’s not really a freedom – you’re only free to start. You’re not free to stop,” he said, citing the big business of smoking cessation products. “Smoking is not a freedom or liberty – it’s an addiction. We need to do something to try to stop it as well as we can. If it means we need a strong ordinance in the city of Farmington to do this.”
Landrum said he would support sending the ordinance to the voters of Farmington in the event of a tie.
Following the meeting, Landrum said the city needs to make a strong statement showing the willingness to go “smoke-free.”
“I would vote so the people of Farmington will have a chance to express their role on this. If it gets to a tie vote, I’ll break the tie with a ‘yes’ vote and I’ll sign the bill,” he said, saying the community consistently shows the support for a ban.
“About 70 percent in our area – which is the highest smoking area in the state of Missouri – are non-smokers,” he said.
Landrum also cited a 2011 study showing a rise in sales tax receipts from bars and restaurants after smoking bans were put in place.
“They did better as smoke-free establishments,” Landrum said. “If you go smoke-free, you’re bound to attract new business.”
A public hearing is scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. tonight on the tax rate and a planned unit development for a large retailer to be co-located at the site of the Rural King to the west of U.S. 67. Regular session begins immediately following.