Less smoke, more ecotourists?
by Paige Rentz
prentz@annistonstar.com
Apr 19, 2013 | 6185 views |  0 comments | 21 21 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Terry Phillis Sr., manager at Mellow Mushroom, readies the restaurant for Friday night's dinner for the bicycle teams and fans. (Photo by Bill Wilson / The Anniston Star)
Terry Phillis Sr., manager at Mellow Mushroom, readies the restaurant for Friday night's dinner for the bicycle teams and fans. (Photo by Bill Wilson / The Anniston Star)
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With hundreds of cyclists pouring into Calhoun County this week for the Sunny King Criterium and Cheaha Challenge, Anniston Councilwoman Millie Harris wishes a proposed smoke-free ordinance was already in place in the Model City.

“If we’re going to promote Anniston as a destination for things that are healthy — a healthy lifestyle — that’s just something we’re going to have to do,” she said.

The City Council has been considering a new comprehensive smoke-free ordinance for the Model City since last month, when a representative from the American Lung Association presented the council with a model ordinance similar to those adopted by more than 20 Alabama cities in recent years.

Members of the council hope the proposed measure — which would outlaw smoking in indoor public places such as restaurants, bars and hotels and restrict some outdoor areas — could help make Anniston a more attractive place to tourists such as the cyclists who will be filling local establishments this weekend.

“From the ecotourism perspective, I think it’s another piece of the puzzle,” said Councilman Jay Jenkins. “It’s something that has to be done. If we’re going to carry that moniker and wave that flag, we’re going to need to wave it with consistency.”

The City Council delayed action on the measure after its last work session in order to tweak language in the proposal. The draft ordinance would allow for establishments such as restaurants, bars and hotels to designate outdoor seating for smoking. Jenkins requested changes to clarify distance requirements for outdoor areas in the draft, calling for the ordinance to limit smoking within 15 feet of main entrances to public places. The distance will be reduced to 7 feet for secondary entrances that lead to designated outdoor smoking patios.

The smoke-free ordinance, said Mayor Vaughn Stewart, is one part of a push toward health and wellness that arose from comments in the council’s listening tours. Also likely to come up are measures such as community gardens and recycling.

“It’s just all part of the new landscape we hope to paint for the city of Anniston,” he said.

Stewart said he expects the council to hold a public hearing at its April 23 meeting before members vote on the measure.

“It’s all been discussed, and we want to add another layer to that in terms of having the public hearing,” he said, adding that there will be business owners affected by the change. “We want to give them a chance to voice their concerns and be heard before we get into it.”

One member of the council has some concerns of his own. Councilman David Reddick on Monday cited measures to prohibit hotels from offering smoking rooms and to prohibit e-cigarettes and similar implements along with conventional smoking as possible overstepping.

“I think that might be too far,” he said. “At what point are we trying to be eco-friendly, and at what point are we invading people’s civil liberties?”

But Councilman Seyram Selase sees the proposal as a “shining example” of the city’s leadership “actively fighting things that actively plague our society, such as second-hand smoke.”

Jenkins said the smoke-free proposal works with the ecotourism bill — commonly referred to as the Anniston Sunday sales bill — currently awaiting the signature of Gov. Robert Bentley.

“What we’re finding is this cycling component, by and large, this culture enjoys a beer after they’re riding; they don’t typically enjoy a smoke,” he said. “It is uncommon to go out and exercise and ride 10 miles on the bike and go home and have a cigarette.”

Terry Phillis Sr., manager of the Mellow Mushroom in Oxford, said he thinks the measure could make a difference to cyclists and other recreational tourists in Anniston.

“I think that it would help attract them to stay in the area to eat or drink after they ride,” he said. Phillis said the Mellow Mushroom is a family restaurant that caters to athletes, sponsoring a number of events local events such as the Cheaha Challenge and the Woodstock 5K. No smoking is allowed inside the restaurant.

“I think people that are athletes look for an environment that matches what their interests are,” he said. Phillis added that it’s rare to see these athletes smoking, even on the restaurant’s outdoor patio, where smoking is allowed.

Phillis said he understood the approach presented by Anniston city leaders.

“When you say you’re going to be a Bike City, USA, and you’re going to promote an eco-friendly environment, then how can you have smoking in the middle of that?” he said. “I think people recognize that; they decide where to stay, where to spend their money based on that.”

City leaders hope the proposed smoke-free measure will help visitors decide to return Anniston.

“We realize it can be controversial, but I only wish we had it in place this weekend,” Harris said. “It would send a message that we’re a progressive, health-oriented destination.”

Staff writer Paige Rentz: 256-235-3564. On Twitter @PRentz_Star.

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