Alabaster hears both sides of proposed smoking ban debate

Nearly 20 Alabaster residents and business owners stepped up during a July 19 public hearing to share their opinions on a proposed smoking ban at public places throughout the city.

During the more than hour-long public hearing, the speakers shared their thoughts on issues ranging from public health concerns to government regulation of private businesses.

Throughout the meeting, eight speakers said they would support a smoking ban at public places throughout the city, like restaurants and shopping centers, and nine said they opposed any form of city regulation on smoking in restaurants and bars.

After the meeting, Alabaster City Council members said they would review the comments made during the hearing, and could take up the issue during a council meeting as early as late August.

“Do we take the interest of the business owners above the interest of the public health?” Alabaster resident Tyrone Quarels asked the Alabaster City Council. “Do we allow the smoking minority that’s in the wrong to impose that on us and our children?

“Why is it that we as the non-smoking majority have to subside to those who smoke?” Quarels added. “You have the right to smoke, but you don’t have the right to kill me along with you.”

Many smoking ban opponents said they felt the municipal government should not regulate privately owned businesses, and said enacting a ban would infringe on citizens’ rights.

“The hysteria about secondhand smoke is a bit out of whack. What we are doing here is crazy,” said Alabaster resident Brian Davis. “This is a marketplace issue. In America, you are supposed to let the marketplace decide things like this.

“I propose we let freedom ring. I propose we let the marketplace decide,” Davis added. “I propose we leave government on the sideline and let the businesses decide what’s best.”

Several local business owners told the council a smoking ban would infringe on their livelihoods, and asked the city officials to leave Alabaster’s smoking code as it is.

“My stance is the same as many of the other business owners,” said Tim Spencer, owner of the Buffalo Wild Wings in the Colonial Promenade shopping center. “We should make the decision.

“I would rather not see us adopt a smoking ban, but rather let us make the decision,” Spencer added. “Almost 30 percent of our business is alcohol. A smoking ban would hurt our business.”

But other city residents said Alabaster’s restaurants are already losing business to neighboring municipalities with citywide smoking bans.

“I have health problems, and I can’t stand to be around smoking,” said Alabaster resident Amelia Norris. “We go to Hoover to eat rather than patronize our own restaurants simply because of this.”

Following the hearing, several Alabaster City Council members said they were pleased with what they heard.

“I appreciate the fact that this was all kept civil. I know this is a charged issue,” said Ward 4 Councilman Rick Walters. “I wrote down the main notes of each speaker, and I will take that into consideration as we go forward.”

“We all have an idea of what we are considering,” said Ward 7 Councilman Tommy Ryals. “But we wouldn’t have this meeting if we had already made up our minds.”