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Ban boosts, burns business

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By Laura Hagan

It’s been a year since the smoking ban went into effect in Oldham County.The ban prohibits smoking in restaurants, bars, bingo halls and other public venues.While those who support it continue to patronize local businesses, some residents who opposed the ban say they have changed their dining habits.Arlene Torrens supported the ban, and said since it went into effect, she began dining out in Oldham County – something she didn’t do before.Moving here from California – where a smoking ban was in place, Torrens said she went to Louisville to go out to eat, because restaurants there were smoke-free.“It’s nice to be able to go in (a restaurant),” she said, “and sit at a bar with an appetizer and a beer and not have to worry about smoke.”Torrens said she believes smoking is dangerous and damages people’s health. She said she doesn’t think it’s right for people to “partake of something that’s damaging to others.”“The bottom line is that it’s a health issue,” she said. “I’m very supportive of (the ban) and I’m happy that Oldham County went this way.”Some businesses have seen more or the same amount of patrons, while others say they’ve lost customers.Michael Reidy owns the Irish Rover Too on Main Street. He changed the restaurant to a non-smoking establishment before the ban went effective.Reidy said he hasn’t seen a big change in the amount of business now compared to before the ban was in place.“I think people began to see the benefits of eating without smoke,” he said.The Oldham County Health Department is the agency responsible for enforcing the ban. Liz Burrows is a health educator for the department and said there have been no businesses or individuals cited for violations, though there have been complaints. In the six months after the ban went into effect, Burrows said the department received 23 complaints. Since December, there have only been two.Burrows was the project coordinator for Smoke-Free Oldham, a lobbyist group that researched and supported the ordinance. Burrows said the group surveyed the community in 2005 and they found that a majority of the county would support a smoke-free ordinance.She said a lot of the complaints were resolved after the department spoke to the businesses. Many were unsure as to the specific terms of the ban. Business kits – which are available at the health department – were sent out to all businesses with all of the information about the ban.The department also did an air quality study at 10 area businesses in March 2007. A follow up on the study was done this March. Of the 10, eight were restaurants.Burrows said the EPA’s National Ambient Air Quality Standard is 35. For Oldham County, the average was 110, with the highest being 303.Burrows said she is interested to see the follow-ups because the same venues were surveyed the same date and time in 2007 and 2008.The way the department enforces the ban is through a hotline. The hotline can be checked daily and any complaint is followed by a phone call to the business to make sure they were aware of the problem. The department has citation authority and Burrows said they would only make a visit to the venue if there were multiplecomplaints.“I think it’s gone really well,” Burrows said of the ban’s effectiveness. “Very few people have had negative comments.”She said in most communities where a ban like this is passed she thinks most people want to do the right thing. She said the hardest part in Oldham County was educating everyone about what the ban entails. For example, Burrows said some thought the ban only applied to restaurants.One restaurant that suffered as a result of the change was Ponderosa. Bruce Farley manages the La Grange restaurant. He said his business decreased 25 percent as a result of the ban.“This place was packed (before the ban),” he said.During the lunch hour last week, customers were sparse and there were several tables available.It has also caused an issue with employees. Instead of taking smoke breaks indoors, they now have to go outside.Farley said the restaurant attracted Jefferson County residents, after a similar smoking ban was enacted there. Since Oldham County went non-smoking as well, he said he doesn’t get the Louisville business anymore.Donna Claggett, owner of the Skylight General Store has also seen somewhat of a decline in business since the ban took effect.“I’ve still got guys coming in here,” she said. “But they’re not staying as long.”Because the customers can’t smoke in the store, she said they’re quicker to leave, and not spending as much money. Claggett has opposed the ban since it’s inception.“Still, to this day,” she said, “I think it should have been my choice to allow it.”She said she is also losing time from her employees – they have to take their smoke breaks outside, when Claggett said they could be inside working while they smoke.She said she wonders what happened to the people who said they’d come to her store if it didn’t allow smoking.“I haven’t seen them,” she said. “Someone said they’d throw a party.”As a patron, Claggett said she would pick the smoking section sometimes, though she was not a smoker. Now that every section is non-smoking, she said, there’s a longer wait at restaurants.Bonnie Goldberg continues to oppose the county’s smoking ban.“About the only time I go into a restaurant (in Oldham County),” she said, “is when I go out with a group ofpeople.”Goldberg, who is a smoker, said it’s not just the ban on smoking that bothers her, but believes that it is taking the rights of some away to promote the rights of others. She said her husband, who is not a smoker, agrees with her.“I think they could find a way to please both sides,” she said.

E-mail us about this story at: lhagan@oldhamera.com.