The Birmingham City Council unanimously passed a comprehensive smoking ban Tuesday after hearing from a number of doctors and health professionals in support of the bill, and from bar owners who asked for certain exemptions.
The council passed the ban, which would stop smoking in indoor environments and many public places, including bars, with many amendments. One amendment requires that cigar and hookah bars receive 80 percent of their revenue from tobacco sales to qualify for an exemption from the ban. One amendment exempted the use of electronic cigarettes, or e-cigs, from the ban. Another banned smoking within seven feet of an entrance to a bar or restaurant—the unamended ordinance asked for a 10 foot buffer zone.
The ordinance requires business owners to post signage about the ban in their establishments, and provides that the City of Birmingham work with other governments and agencies to pass smoking bans in other areas. The ordinance also provides for fines for smokers and businesses that violate the smoking ban.
Councilor Johnathan Austin, who chairs the Public Safety Committee, asked for the reduced buffer zone in the hopes that some Southside and Lakeview bars and restaurants would not suffer a loss of business due to the smoking ban.
Business owners, including representatives of Dave’s Pub, the Wine Loft, Stillwater Pub, Blue Monkey Lounge and Tavern on the Summit, understood the drive for a smoking ban but asked for exemptions for their patios.
Stillwater Pub owner Jason Brunson complained that he didn’t receive the final draft of the ordinance until Tuesday morning and said he believes there should be “unregulated outdoor smoking.” The council did not go for that suggestion, but they did amend their ordinance to address another concern of Brunson’s: e-cigarettes. Brunson said the e-cigs are helpful to people who are trying to quit smoking.
“I really think that at least people should be allowed to do that [use e-cigarettes], because people are going to smoke regardless,” Brunson said.
Many doctors and health professionals, including a family physician and former smoker who was hooked up to an oxygen machine, spoke in support of the ban. But the first speaker, Alabama Secretary of State Beth Chapman, was perhaps the most compelling advocate for the ban.
Chapman, whose husband died from a respiratory illness caused by smoking, argued that secondhand smoke has been ignored as a public health concern for too long.
“We as a society would never intentionally bruise the bodies of a person with hemophilia, or put large amounts of sugar into the bodies of people with diabetes against their will, so why should we allow others to put large amounts of smoke into the bodies of people with respiratory illnesses against their will?” Chapman asked.
“We live in a society where we demand that people that people not push their principles, politics or religion on us, yet we allow them to push cancer-causing chemicals on us and it is time that we politely ask them to stop,” Chapman said. “You as a city council have the power to do that today.”
Councilor Carole Smitherman was not present at the meeting Tuesday, but the other eight councilors voted unanimously in favor of the ban.
Under the ordinance, smokers lighting up in non-smoking areas can be fined $50; the fines are treated like traffic violations. Businesses found in violation of the ordinance can be fined $100 for a first violation, $200 on the second violation within a year, and $500 for every additional violation in a year. Businesses in violation can also lose their licenses and permits, and be declared a public nuisance.
The ordinance goes into effect thirty days after it is published and approved by Birmingham Mayor William Bell.
UPDATE: The American Heart Association has issued a press release in support of the council’s decision:
The American Heart Association applauds the leadership and commitment of this council in passing a strong smokefree ordinance for the city of Birmingham.
Smoking is a leading contributor to cardiovascular diseases and stroke, the No. 1 and No. 4 killers in Birmingham, the state of Alabama and across the country. Each year, primarily because of exposure to secondhand smoke, more than 46,000 nonsmoking Americans die as a result of heart disease alone. However, mounting scientific evidence shows that smokefree workplace laws are an effective tool in the fight against heart disease and stroke.
By passing this ordinance, the city of Birmingham is helping lead the way on smokefree policies across Alabama and has created a fine example for our state legislature to follow.
UPDATE: Below is a statement from Champions for Health (otherwise known as the Jefferson County Health Action Partnership), which includes the American Heart Association, the American Lung Association and the Jefferson County Department of Health:
Birmingham, Ala. — The Jefferson County Health Action Partnership commends the Birmingham City Council for taking a strong stand today in the fight to breathe clean air. Thousands of workers and residents will soon be protected from harmful secondhand smoke — environmental tobacco smoke that contains more than 7,000 chemicals, more than 200 of which are poisonous and 69 are known carcinogens — thanks to a comprehensive ordinance that passed unanimously Tuesday, April 17.
Since 2000, more than 25 states and the District of Columbia have enacted comprehensive smoke-free legislation. Recently, Alabama was named along with California as the top state in the nation for enacting new smoke-free laws due to multiple municipalities passing comprehensive ordinances — including Fultondale, Midfield, Fairfield and Clay. Birmingham joins a growing list of Alabama cities to take a stand against secondhand smoke.
The surgeon general’s report in 2006 concluded that any exposure to secondhand smoke is harmful. Each year, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health, more than 800 adult non-smokers die due to exposure to secondhand smoke.
Visit www.championsforhealth.org to learn more about the partnerships efforts to strengthen smoke-free policies and reduce tobacco initiation.
Updated to clarify that smokers, too, can be fined, not just businesses, and to give more information on fines.
The draft of the ordinance below does not include amendments made Tuesday by the Birmingham City Council.