By Kelsi Peace, Features Editor
Don’t light up in a public place in Abilene-unless, of course, you’re prepared for a citation and a fine.
The new smoking ordinance, which went into effect Jan. 3, prohibits smoking “in all enclosed public places” and designated outdoor areas, according to the ordinance.
Voters supported the ban in the Nov. 7 election, passing the proposition 69 percent to 31 percent. According to the ordinance, more than 22,000 residents voted.
The ordinance has spurred many concerned phone calls to the city with local business owners calling to ask how they are affected and how they can avoid a citation.
“Every business is different; everyone has his own set of circumstances,” said Daniel Santee, interim city attorney.
Santee said all businesses became smoke-free on Jan. 3, when the Abilene Reporter-News published notice of the ban. Businesses that allow patrons to smoke can receive a citation along with the individual.
Smoking is now prohibited in public places, including, but not limited to, bars, bingo facilities, places of meeting, waiting rooms and common areas open to the public.
Apartment complexes are not included in the ban because they are residences; however, if the apartment is open to the public for any reason – for instance, day care – it is then considered a business, and the ban will apply.
Any smoking paraphernalia, such as ashtrays, must be removed from all public places, and businesses have until Feb. 1 to post signs prohibiting smoking and officially inform their employees of the no-smoking policy.
Santee said despite all the concerns raised, the ordinance is no different from any other city ordinance.
“This is like any law that our police officers are asked to enforce,” Santee said. “We don’t take away their ability to exercise their discretion.”
Some business owners, however, aren’t as concerned with receiving a citation as they are concerned with losing business.
Homer Winkles, owner of the Royal Inn Lounge’s bar, My Place, estimates he has lost 50 percent to 60 percent of his business.
“People are just floored that they included the bars, the game rooms and the Bingo halls,” Winkles said.
He would prefer to make his own decisions as a business owner and said, “If you don’t like smoke, don’t come in.”
Despite his frustration, Winkles said he has been enforcing the ordinance at his business.
However, he is not giving up.
Winkles began a petition to revise the ordinance 11 days ago and, as of Wednesday, said he had 26,080 signatures. Petitions are available to sign at the Royal Inn, most tobacco stores and most bars, Winkles said.
The petition must have 65,057 signatures from voters who are registered to vote in Abilene by 5 p.m. on Feb. 19.
If enough voters sign the petition, the City Secretary must verify to the City Council that all signatures are from voters registered in Abilene.
The Council will then either repeal the ordinance or put it to a vote.
If set to a vote, interim city attorney Santee said, the vote must be held on a uniform election date, and enforcement will be suspended.
Nicolas Acosta, graduate student in the School of Theology from Abilene, said he plans to sign the petition.
While not a cigarette smoker, Acosta said he enjoys smoking an occasional cigar or pipe.
Acosta said he feels the ordinance infringes on the rights of citizens and business owners, and “seems kind of whiney overall.”
“I’d like to be able to go to a pub and smoke,” Acosta said. Instead, he said he will go to The Leaf.
Others are grateful for the ban.
Appalonia Little, junior nursing major from Houston, said she supports the ban, especially because her father suffered from bronchitis after inhaling secondhand smoke.
April Varela, senior biology major from Edinburgh, agreed that a smoke-free Abilene is a good thing.
“I’m all for it,” Varela said.
Varela said she is especially excited at the prospect of being able to go to a bowling alley and not leave smelling like smoke.
Santee said students who have questions about the ban should feel free to call the City Attorney’s office.
“We’re taking any opportunity that we have to explain things to people and to help them with compliance,” he said. “We want to see it succeed because that’s what the majority of people have asked for.”
Santee said a lesson can be learned from the controversy over the ordinance.
“I understand how people are upset, and I understand that they feel like this was unfair, but I think the underlying message to college students is that your vote counts,” Santee said. “This is a great example of why it’s so important to vote.”
The smoking ordinance is available online at www.abilenetx.com. Any questions regarding the ordinance can be directed to the City Attorney’s office at 325-676-6251.