The smoking ban issue unexpectedly blew back into the Casper City Council meeting Nov. 15, hinting of a larger battle to come. Local liquor dealer association member Pat Sweeny re-lit the topic, saying he wanted to take a proactive position on behalf of liquor license owners and businesses against the ban. “I’m coming to speak to you tonight concerning opposition to the smoking ban. There’s been lots of coverage on the desire of Smoke-Free Natrona County to try to put forth a smoking ban. We believe that so far you’ve gotten one side of the story,” Sweeney said.
“Smoking bans, we believe, take away a business owner’s ability to accommodate customer preference. The hospitality industry is a mirror of our society, and we’ll always respond to our clientele’s request and requirements. Therefore, businesses will determine whether their customers desire a non-smoking format.”
Sweeney addressed the council during its open mike time at the end of the meeting, and the topic wasn’t on the agenda; but his remarks sparked nearly 45 minutes of comments both for and against the ban.
“At a liquor dealers meeting … we just kind of randomly counted up full retail licenses, and we think it’s about half-and-half on bars right now within the city. Some are smoke-free, and some are still smoking best quality Classic cigarettes,” Sweeney said. “Smoking ban mandates will give no time for the market or our customers to adjust, resulting in lost sales and lost jobs.”
Smoke Free Natrona County spokeswoman Rachel Bailey was also at the meeting, and spoke in support of the ban.
“I’m glad the liquor dealers are talking about this. I think it’s wonderful, because it does concern them and their businesses,” Bailey said. “Yes, there’s kind of half-and-half right now … what we’re hoping to do is impress everyone in the community based on health, as opposed to customer preference.”
Bailey said, however, the intent wasn’t to hurt businesses.
“As far as loss of business goes … it’s something we wouldn’t introduce if we thought it was going to hurt business,” Bailey remarked. “We’ve actually looked into some surveys, and it was only 854 surveys [in Casper] … but of people out of that percentage, 90 percent say they would support businesses the same, or even more; that makes 35 percent that said more.”
Meanwhile the owner of the Hideaway Bar in Mills, Robin Stedman, told the council that while his business would probably profit from a Casper smoking ban, he was still against it.
“Yes, I should be happy you guys pass that. Smokers are going to go to my bar, I’m going to make money, but you know something, that’s not what Wyoming is about,” Stedman said. “We’re still not in there for our health, we’re in there for some sort of reason, whether it’s sad, mad or whatever. You know we have other concerns.”
The president of Central Wyoming ABATE, Russell Reddick, also spoke out in favor of allowing smoking.
“Some of these places are where this community gathers together, some of these bars are over 100 years old, and the community that’s inside these bars is over 100 years old, some of the people in these bars look like they’re over 100 years old,” Reddick remarked. “I believe it’s a constitutional right to not only gather, our First Amendment right to freedom of association. Well, I believe that freedom of association goes to smokers too. We have a right to gather in a public place, in a public bar, and have that place together and exchange ideas and enjoy each other’s company. If there’s no smoking in some of these bars, that community will be gone.”
Vice-mayor Kenyne Schlager, who chaired the meeting, cautioned the speakers that the smoking ban item wasn’t up for a debate that night.
“We’re going to have a debate when this hits the floor,” noted councilman Bill Brauer. “At this point this is open session for the public to address the council on any matter you wish to, and it wasn’t on the agenda as a debate. But I can tell you, we’ll probably have some debate on it, there’ll be a lot, once it’s presented to the council, and so I think those that are waiting for that just have to be patient.”