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Tenn. business owners wonder about impact of new smoking ban

Sharon Caskey Hayes • Sep 29, 2007 at 12:00 AM

Linda Carpenter enjoys a cigarette at the Jan Mar on Broad Street last week. Erica Yoon photo.


KINGSPORT — Inside the Jan Mar, Bill Greene took a long drag from his cigar and looked out the window down Broad Street. This restaurant has allowed its patrons to smoke since it opened here in 1953.

Now that’s about to change.

“A lot of disappointed people, but there’s not a lot we can do about it,” said Greene, owner of the Jan Mar. “We’ve just got to roll with the flow, don’t we?”

A new state law banning smoking in most enclosed public places takes effect Monday, Oct. 1, and businesses across the state are preparing for the impact.

Last Wednesday at the Jan Mar, Linda Carpenter enjoyed a cigarette after having lunch with her sister, Jane Liles.

“I like smoking and I’ll keep smoking. I just won’t smoke in here,” Carpenter said.

Her sister agreed. “They have the best cheeseburgers in town. I’ll just eat faster,” Liles said.

At a table nearby, Linda Crussell said she’s looking forward to the smoking ban.

“Tickles me to death,” she said, adding she eats at the Jan Mar two to three times a week.

“The smoke bothers me — makes me cough,” Crussell said.

“And it makes you stink,” chimed in Crussell’s husband, Roy.

At the checkout counter, Greene said a lot of customers aren’t happy about the new law. But he doesn’t think he’ll lose business because of it.

“You’ve just got a lot of gripping,” he said. “But there ain’t going to be nothing to stop anybody from the Jan Mar other than the door locked.”

Damon’s Grill implemented the smoking ban in mid September. Manager Calvin Wright said he hoped customers and employees would get accustomed to the smoking ban before the law actually took effect.

“We have lost a few people that I know are not going to come in anymore because they can’t smoke,” Wright said. “Now after they sit at home and everybody in town is the same way (non-smoking), they may change their attitude and come back.”

Some restaurants have prohibited smoking for some time. Cheddar’s went non-smoking in January 2006. June Cohen, one of the managers at the Eastman Road restaurant, said she’s heard more positive comments from the move than negative ones.

“People are happy when they come in and find out it’s non-smoking,” Cohen said.

Under the new law, smoking will be prohibited in restaurants; public and private educational facilities; health care facilities; hotels and motels; retail stores and shopping malls; sports arenas; restrooms, lobbies, reception areas, hallways and other common-use areas; common areas in apartment buildings and other multiple-unit residential facilities; and child care and adult day care facilities.

Facilities that are exempt from the law include non-enclosed areas such as open air patios, porches and decks; venues accessible only to persons age 21 and older; private businesses with three or fewer employees where smoking is allowed only in an enclosed room not accessible to the general public; private clubs; designated smoking rooms in hotels and motels (provided that no more than 25 percent of the rooms are designated as smoking); tobacco manufacturers, importers and wholesalers; retail tobacco stores that prohibit minors; and nursing homes and long-term care facilities that are subject to the policies and procedures established by those facilities.

Gary and Vicki Greenewalt have decided to make their billiards restaurant — Breaking Tradition — accessible only to those age 21 and older because most of their customers prefer lighting up while playing pool.

“Gary and I — neither one of us smoke. And we’d rather people didn’t smoke. But the truth of the matter is, the majority of our customers do smoke. So we’re going to have to go 21 and over,” Vicki Greenewalt said.

The Greenewalts opened Breaking Tradition on Market Street last February after moving to Kingsport late last year from Jacksonville, Fla. Now, they’re wondering if they made the right decision.

“We’re glad we moved to Tennessee. But as far as the business goes, that might have been different if we had known (of the new smoking ban),” Vicki Greenewalt said. “It is a financial burden for businesses like ours.”

Gary Greenewalt said his business will probably take a 15 to 20 percent hit because of the new law.

“It’s a stupid law,” he said. “A kid 18 years old can buy cigarettes, but he can’t go into a place and smoke them. It’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever seen in my life.”

He said lawmakers should make the law uniform throughout the state for all businesses — no exceptions.

“If you pass a law like that, you’ve got to make it a blanket law where nobody can smoke in any public building, or everybody can smoke. You can’t discriminate against certain businesses, and that’s what they’re doing,” Gary Greenewalt said.

At Warpath Bowling on Memorial Boulevard, owner Dennis Lane also questioned the reasoning behind the new law — particularly how the state plans to enforce it.

The Tennessee Department of Health and the Tennessee Department of Labor & Workforce Development both have authority to enforce the law. The Department of Health will be responsible for enforcement at establishments it inspects, such as restaurants, health care facilities and hotels.

The Department of Labor and Workforce Development will be responsible for enforcing the law at establishments it inspects, such as manufacturing facilities, construction sites, retailers and sports arenas.

Individuals who violate the law are subject to civil penalties of $50. A business that allows smoking in banned areas faces a written warning for the first violation, a $100 civil penalty for the second violation, and a $500 fine for the third violation.

Lane questioned what he should do if someone continues to smoke in his bowling alley after hours.

“You’re not going to call the health department at 11 o’clock at night. We don’t know who has the authority to do what,” Lane said. “They didn’t give us the solutions. They just give us the problems.”

As far as impacting his business, Lane said the ban may stop some folks from bowling, but he’s hoping it will ultimately boost business.

“I think we’ll gain that back by people who don’t want to be around smoke and they’ll bring their kids bowling,” he said.

As far as league bowlers, Lane said “it’s just a matter of keeping them informed that they’re not supposed to be smoking.”

Back at the Jan Mar, Greene prepared signs to hang in the windows and on the walls Sunday. The signs tell patrons that smoking is now prohibited inside the restaurant because of a new state law.

“Sign says it all,” Greene sighed, taking in one more drag.

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