Pulaski County’s largest city is now smoke-free.
Somerset City Council voted Monday evening on the second reading of Ordinance 12-02 that would ban smoking in all enclosed public areas within the city limits — and the proposed ban passed with an 11-1 vote after councilors and Somerset Mayor Eddie Girdler heard citizen comments from those who support the ban and from those who oppose it.
“I am really shocked at the fact that the City of Somerset is considering taking away the rights of businesses to make those decisions on whether we want our place of business to be smoking or non-smoking,” stated local business owner Teresa Singleton. “For you to take that on your own, I think that’s a major step in the wrong direction.”
Singleton’s sentiments were echoed by several others, along with Councilor Jim Rutherford, Ward 1, who was the lone councilor to vote against the ban on Monday.
“I have a great conflict inside of my soul tonight,” Rutherford, a former smoker, said. “I had several business owners approach me over the last several weeks very concerned with government encroachment.
“ ... I do want us to be on a level playing field with other cities,” Rutherford said. “There’s a city not two miles down the road where you can smoke wherever you want to and have a drink while you do it and no one seems to have anything to say about it.”
Many cities across the state have chosen to go smoke-free, with Corbin, located in Whitley County, being one of the municipalities to do so most recently.
Girdler emphasized to the nearly 50 people crowded into the council room at Somerset City Hall that Monday’s meeting was not a public hearing in which the pros and cons of the ban were to be debated.
The city held a public hearing several years ago, but they decided to table the smoking ban issue after fewer people attended the meeting than had hoped. Since then, the ban had scarcely been discussed until Girdler introduced the proposed ordinance during the Jan. 9 meeting.
Local podiatrist Pamela Jensen-Stanley told the council that she works with patients suffering from ailments related to smoking nearly every day.
“The nursing homes, and rest homes, I actually am personally offended ... going into these facilities wafting through smoke to find my patients, who all are very, very sick and the last thing they need to be doing is breathing second-hand smoke,” Jensen-Stanley said.
“I believe this ban is necessary,” Jensen-Stanley later added. “I think it’s time that Somerset moves up and gets with the program.”
The ordinance states that smoking would be prohibited in all enclosed public places within the City of Somerset, including bingo facilities, gaming facilities, restaurants, polling places, educational facilities, both public and private, health care facilities, bars, aquariums, galleries, libraries and museums, lobbies, hallways and other common areas in apartment buildings, condominiums, trailer parks, retirement facilities, nursing homes and other multiple-unit residential facilities.
Also included in the ban are places of employment.
Private clubs are also included, but only during events in which the general public is invited.
Other who voiced their support of the ban stated that children must be protected from any possible health issues caused by smoking and second-hand smoke.
Hilma Prather said that children “do not necessarily have the right to choose what buildings they go into.
“Adults can make that choice for themselves, the children cannot,” Prather added. “They are very much the victims of having to inhale second-hand smoke.”
Several councilors expressed concerns with passing the ban, stating that to determine what business owners can and cannot do on their properties troubled them.
“Last time this came up, we never voted on it, and at the time, I felt real bad about taking people’s rights away ... but the smokers have had their rights for this many years,” said Councilor John Minton, Ward 8. “I guess I’ve changed my mind on it.
“I feel bad about private businesses and us telling them what to do and I’d like to see them out of it but it’s not going to happen.”
Linda Stringer also stated her hesitance.
“I just have an issue telling the private people what they can do,” she stated.
Those concerns weren’t enough to sway the councilors, who stated they believe they are dealing with a public health issue, from voting in favor of the ban
Other councilors expressed full support of the ordinance, including Councilor Jerry Girdler, Ward 5, who lost his brother, local political figure Donnie Girdler just weeks ago.
Girdler passed away after a battle with cancer.
“I just lost a brother two weeks ago to throat and lung cancer, and he probably smoked three packs of cigarettes a day,” Jerry Girdler said. “It’s time to change our attitudes and our mind.
“It’s a public health safety issue,” Jerry Girdler continued. “The facts back up that smoking is harmful to the people around them.”