No smoking: Starkville ban takes effect

By ROBBIE WARD

Daily Journal Starkville Bureau

STARKVILLE – Johnny Joorfetz and Kristin Lofton sat outside Dave's Dark Horse Tavern Saturday, munching on pepperoni pizza, drinking beer and smoking cigarettes.

They sat outside a new patio area designated for smokers. This was their first time to hang outside the bar; it was also the first full day the city's smoking ban was enforced.

“It's going to be weird not being able to watch the band,” Lofton said of staying outside when she smokes.

Throughout Starkville, cigarette smoke and tobacco smells became less pungent at area restaurants that had smoking sections.

Some people said smoke-filled restaurants and bars won't be the same. For instance, places like Dave's were known for their smoky atmospheres.

David Hart, the doorman at Dave's and a smoker for years, said he's switched to chewing gum while standing at the door instead of smoking a pack of cigarettes during his shift. But he didn't mind the change.

“It's probably better for all of our health,” Hart said.

New patrons

Dave's had its regulars listening to the band Saturday, but it also had customers return who hadn't visited in years.

Robert McMillen sat with a group of friends listening to the band play. McMillen helped organize the grass-roots effort in the city to convince local leaders to vote to make public businesses, including restaurants and bars, smoke-free. Users are required to smoke outside – away from entrances and exits of businesses.

McMillen predicted Starkville will start a healthy trend in Mississippi by being the state's largest city with a strong no-smoking ordinance. People caught smoking inside businesses can be fined $50 for the first offense and $250 afterward. Businesses where smokers are cited for smoking indoors three times within a 12-month period risk losing their business license.

“I have no doubt that a year from now several (cities) will have followed our leadership,” said McMillen, a research professor with the Social Science Research Center at Mississippi State University.

Citizens or elected leaders in Tupelo, Meridian and Hattiesburg have already discussed adopting an ordinance similar to Starkville's.

Stephanie Atkins-Arnett dined with her husband and two children Saturday at BIN 612, an Italian eatery on University Drive. She welcomed the new ordinance and remembered the last time she and her husband attended an indoor concert.

“We didn't even stay for the main show because my eyes watered so bad and it was stinky,” Atkins-Arnett said.

She said she looked forward to attending more concerts without worrying about the effects of cigarette in enclosed areas.

Minimal impact now

Jamie Dickey, general manager of the Cotton District Grill, said so far the smoking ordinance had a minimal impact at his restaurant. The restaurant's bar had ashtrays conspicuously missing and the entrance had a “no smoking sign” posted.

Dickey said one customer lit a cigarette but put it out when informed the restaurant was smoke free. He said sales at the restaurant were good, but he attributed the increased customers to the MSU-Ole Miss baseball game.

“Anytime the Bulldogs are playing we're busy,” he said.

Dickey said the real test of whether the smoking ban affects business will be in late August, when MSU begins its fall semester. “It's going to be kind of neat to see when the students come back,” he said.

Ward 5 Alderman Matt Cox, who supported the smoking ban, visited several restaurants Friday and Saturday, distributing “no smoking” stickers required to be posted at businesses. He said many people greeted him with appreciation.

“It's been overwhelmingly positive,” Cox said.

Contact Robbie Ward at 323-9831 or robbie.ward@djournal.com