By Adam Armour/The Itawamba County Times
MANTACHIE – It’s been five years since the town of Mantachie adopted an anti-smoking policy, and according to officials, residents and business-owners, the change has been a breath of fresh air.
“It has gone even better than I expected,” said Mantachie Mayor Jeff Butler. He was a major proponent of the somewhat controversial 2006 ordinance that eventually banned smoking from public buildings and areas.
Half a decade later, the mayor said he receives few complaints about the law.
“At the time (of the proposal), most people were really looking forward to it, and the businesses have done a good job adopting,” Butler said. “I think, in the end, it was what’s best for Mantachie’s overall health.”
Five years ago, the Mississippi Tobacco Free Coalition proposed to the Mantachie Board of Aldermen that the town follow the example recently set by the nearby city of Tupelo and ban smoking from all local businesses.
Tonya Gentry, Mantachie resident and MTFC member, led the charge for passing the smoke-free ordinance. Although there were definitely those who opposed the law, as was evidenced in a packed and somewhat heated town hall meeting, Gentry said the overall response to the proposal was positive.
“There were people who were against it and they were extremely vocal. But overall, the majority really supported the policy,” Gentry said, adding that she has always believed such policies were about protecting the rights of individuals, not taking them away.
“It improves the overall quality of life for everyone,” she said. “People who have asthma or C.O.P.D. don’t have to consider that when choosing places to go. They don’t have to be concerned with the effects of second-hand smoke.”
Residents seem to agree. According to Dan Walton, lifelong Mantachie resident and owner of Gifts Galore amp& Flowers by Dan, the change has certainly been a positive one.
“I haven’t heard any complaints from people coming into my store,” Walton said, nodding to the “No Smoking” sign attached to the door of his shop.
Walton – a former mayor of the town – was a tremendous supporter of the anti-smoking ordinance when it was proposed. He said he couldn’t be happier with the change.
“Personally, I think it’s been wonderful,” he said. “It’s just a lot more comfortable now when you sit down at a restaurant to eat or go out to shop. I can definitely tell a difference in the town.”
But not everyone felt the same at the time of the ordinance’s proposal. In fact, it passed on a split vote, and several dozen town residents – including former town officials and business owners – attended the public forum to plead their concerns about the effect the bill would have on the local economy.
According to Butler, the most vocal opponents of the ordinance were owners of two local restaurants – neither of which is in business anymore. But the mayor was quick to defend the law and assert that the smoking ban has had little to no negative affect on Mantachie businesses, and that most had already adopted unofficial policies when the ordinance was passed.
“The town’s sales tax has not suffered because of the change,” the mayor said. “In fact, our sales tax is up a little bit since we first implemented the ordinance.”
As of now, Mantachie is still the first and only Itawamba County community with an anti-smoking ordinance in place, although similar ordinances continue to be considered in cities and towns across the state. According to Gentry, carefully measuring the community and its leadership prior to proposing such an ordinance is the key to a smooth transition.
“It’s important to find community leaders who really believe this issue and understand the ramifications of second-hand smoke, it makes the transition more seamless,” she said, adding that such communities usually have little trouble adopting. “There’s never going to be a perfect, flawless plan that everybody loves. But I think once these kinds of ordinances pass, most residents accept that they target a public health concern.”