Panel waters down smoking ban legislation

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal

JACKSON – A bill attempting to ban smoking in public places, including restaurants and bars, has been altered and now will prohibit smoking only in government buildings.
Senate Public Health Chair Hob Bryan, D-Amory, said what the bill does now “may already be existing law.” The bill was amended Wednesday in Bryan’s Public Health Committee, where a majority of the members voted to exempt all private businesses from the ban.
The amendment was offered by Sen. Tom King, R-Petal.
Sen. Billy Hewes, R-Gulfport, said he supported King’s amendment even though he believes “it is crazy” not to have a smoke-free environment, but added “we don’t need the government telling people they have to do that.”
He said a business owner should be able to decide whether smoking can be permitted based on clientele and environment.
Bryan said he assumes someone will try to amend it back to its original form when he brings it up on the Senate floor.
Sen. Willie Simmons, D-Cleveland, said that as a policymaker and as a restaurant owner, he supports the legislation.
He said research shows the health care costs to the state are greater because of the impact of secondhand smoke. Plus, he said the smoking ban at his restaurant has not affected business.
“People respect the policy and go outside,” he said.
Sen. Bennie Turner, D-West Point, said, “it was a delicate balance” but felt “some protection” was needed from a product deemed as unsafe.
“I support the principle” of a statewide ban, said Turner, a former smoker.
Numerous health care advocacy groups are urging acceptance of a statewide ban. They point to studies by the United States surgeon general deeming secondhand smoke dangerous.
The Mississippi Hospitality and Restaurant Association opposes the ban and says business owners should be able to make their own decision. The association believes the ban will hurt business and thus the economy of the state.
Health care advocates said 37 municipalities across the state, including Tupelo and others in Northeast Mississippi, already have put a ban in place.
House Public Health Chair Steve Holland, D-Plantersville, said he plans to give Bryan’s bill consideration in his committee if it passes the Senate.

Contact Bobby Harrison at (601) 353-3119 or bobby.harrison@journalinc.com.