Thursday, August 23, 2007

County snuffs out proposed smoking ban

Good for this county in Michigan! They are standing up to the Health Facists who are trying to ram "healthy" legislation down our throats.

Ironwood,MI -- The Ontonagon County Board of Commissioners rejected an anti-smoking ordinance Tuesday against the wishes of the health department.

Ontonagon became the first county in the Western Upper Peninsula District Health Department to reject the clean indoor air regulation. A health department had urged the commissioners to table any action until a public survey could be conducted.

Houghton, Baraga and Gogebic counties have all approved the regulation, but all the counties in the health department district must consent to it before the ordinance can take effect. The ordinance would prohibit smoking indoors at all worksites and public places, with the exception of bars, restaurants and tribal properties.

Former commissioner Al Slye questioned the cost of enforcing the ban with mandated inspections.

"Who enforces the ordinance?" Slye asked. "In my opinion, the (health department) has an ulterior motive, a hidden agenda, and more of this kind of ordinance will come down the line."

Health department director Guy St. Germain asked the board to postpone action on the ordinance until a survey of county residents could be conducted by an impartial body.

"I am concerned that we not rush into this because everything we read shows that a majority of citizens support the ordinance," St. Germain said.

He said a majority of states have already passed such an act.

Commissioner Skip Schulz told St. Germain that the health department didn't ask for a survey from the Village of Ontonagon before the village council voted on the issue, because he already knew the council supported the ordinance.

"You do not have support here, so you want to put it off," Schulz said.

Schulz also said that in the three months since the county board held a public hearing on the issue, there has been no outcry from the public to support more laws or such a ban.

The board agreed to vote and then defeated the proposal, saying it would be preferable for businesses to voluntarily take action. The motion also suggested it was the health department's responsibility to convince businesses to voluntarily support a ban.

Commissioner John Pelkola cast the lone dissenting vote.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Bar Owner sentenced to $41k in fines for being a Free Citizen in America

Kevin Lipka is the true hero of Smoking Lobby, and this has got to stop!

Judge: Go-go bar must pay $41K in fines
Smoke-Free Air Act is 'flagrantly violated' by Smiles II

Thursday, August 16, 2007

A Superior Court judge on Wednesday upheld $41,103 in fines imposed against the owner of the Smiles II go-go bar in Roxbury, finding the owner flagrantly violated the state's law against smoking inside bars and restaurants.

Judge W. Hunt Dumont, sitting in Morristown, gave Smiles II owner Kevin Lipka 14 days to consider an appeal to the state's appellate division before being required to pay the fines first imposed last year by Roxbury Municipal Court Judge Carl Wronko. Lipka paid $5,000 of the fine already, but the rest was put on hold pending his appeal to Dumont.

Lipka, who has owned the go-go bar on Route 46 for 14 years, does not dispute he never posted no-smoking signs and allowed patrons and employees to smoke indoors after New Jersey's Smoke-Free Air Act went into effect on April 15, 2006. Instead, defense lawyer Jeffrey Advokat attacked the violations levied by a Roxbury health officer against Smiles II as unenforceable because the state had not finished formalizing administrative regulations to support the law when it went into effect.

Advokat also argued that Lipka, in the time frame the violations were issued, was actively seeking recognition from Roxbury as a cigar bar so Smiles II could be exempt from the law. Advokat contended that unless or until Roxbury decided whether Smiles II qualified for an exemption it should have refrained from giving him violations.

Dumont disagreed, siding with township attorney James Bryce's position that Lipka waited until two days before the law was in effect to try to get an exemption and should have barred smoking on his premises until he knew whether he qualified. Dumont said Lipka had months to prepare for the new law.

"Everyone knew this smoking ban was more than likely to become law in indoor establishments. Everyone saw this coming unless you had your head in the sand," Dumont said.

In Lipka's case, the judge said, "The violations are flagrant."

Lipka received 41 notices of violations of the law between April 27 and Oct. 13, 2006. Two days before the law's enactment, Lipka wrote the township a letter he hoped would serve as registration as a cigar bar. The town responded, in part, that a business must have generated 15 percent of its total annual gross income in the year ending Dec. 31, 2004 from the on-site sale of tobacco products to qualify.

Advokat told the judge Wednesday that the condition for an exemption is virtually impossible to meet because how could his client know in 2006 he would need specific revenue documents from 2004 to support an exemption? The judge agreed the condition is onerous -- likely designed to limit the number of available indoor places to smoke -- but said Lipka had no choice but to comply if he wanted to be free of the law.

Dumont noted that Roxbury sent certified letters to Lipka on April 20 and 21, 2006 ordering him to "cease and desist" smoking inside the bar. Another township-sent letter said an inspection for signage and smoking would be done on April 26, 2006. Smoking continued at Smiles II despite the warnings, and the first violation was issued April 27, 2006. They continued into October.

The judge at first questioned the need for 41 violation notices but then ruled the township was justified in its effort to get Lipka to comply. He found that the municipal court judge, Wronko, acted within his authority when he followed the law's penalty schedule to mete out $41,103 in fines.

Lipka, meanwhile, would not comment on whether he will appeal. He said he believes he generated, before the law, 15 percent of his income from cigar and cigarette sales and rentals of humidors. Since the law's passage, he said, only a handful of his 75 humidors are rented and passersby call the police department when they see his dancers outside smoking in their skimpy outfits.

"I have customers who are sitting mesmerized by the dancing. They want a cigarette with their drink. They have a nic-fit. It breaks the mood when they have to go outside," Lipka said during a break in the hearing.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Warning Letters Being Sent Despite An Invalid Smoking Ban Vote

These nasty local gov't bastards are sending mean letters to bars even though the smoking ban isn't passed!! But notice what the bar owners are saying - since there is no smoking ban business has double and tripled!! So you really think non-smokers represent any good bar business? Hell no! Non-smokers should be banned from bars!

Putnam County's smoking ban vote declared invalid last month

WEST VIRGINIA -- Bar owners in Putnam County are anxiously awaiting August 21. That's when the County Health Board is expected to take up the controversial smoking ban again.

In July the smoking ban vote was declared invalid. Still, bar owners like Bill Lanham are getting warning letters.

"Put your ashtrays up or the next time you will be taken to court and be fined," said Lanham, owner of Sneeker's Night Club in Teays Valley. While the letter bothers him, it doesn't scare him.

He says he's getting ready to battle the ban. He hopes both sides can still find middle ground because he said smokers and non-smokers can co-exist.

He believes the letter from the county is a message that a smoking ban will become a reality. Still, the invalid vote from last month has been good for bar business.

"It's doubled or tripled business, everybody coming in, all the bars I talked to it's really helped out," said Dave Frame, owner of Dave's Den in Hometown.

The health board is expected to consider the issue at their next meeting and they may even vote on a ban, but that may not be the end of the battle.

"I will appeal it. I will hire an attorney," said Lanham.

Board member Joe Haynes says he would be willing to listen to suggested modifications to the code.

Both Lanham and Frame say they hope to soon organize a Putnam County Bar Owners Association to deal with future issues pertaining to their businesses.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Lawsuit filed to stop Houston smoking ban

HOUSTON — A coalition of bar, nightclub and cabaret owners has filed a federal lawsuit challenging a city ban on smoking in most bars that's scheduled to take effect next month.

Members of the Houston Association of Alcoholic Beverage Permit Holders claim the ordinance will create an unfair competitive environment for them to operate.

The law extends the city's smoking ban to most public places, but continues to allow smoking in outdoor patios and in bars that promote cigar smoking and derive significant revenue from tobacco sales.

The City Council approved the ban in October to protect bar patrons and employees from the health effects of second-hand smoke.

The lawsuit claims the city does not have the authority under state law to create different regulations among businesses licensed to sell alcohol for on-premises consumption.

"They're creating an unbalanced playing field by stating that certain types of operators, such as tobacco bars, who meet their arbitrary definition of what a tobacco bar is, can allow smoking while the guy across the street (who) doesn't meet that definition cannot," said Al Van Huff, a lawyer representing the group.

The lawsuit asks the court to stop enforcement of the ordinance and rule it invalid for alcohol establishments licensed by the state.

City Attorney Arturo Michel said Houston's ordinance is legal. Various bars are not being treated differently in terms of alcohol, he said.

"We're actually not just regulating this industry in terms of smoking," he said. "We regulate a lot of other public places, in terms of smoking."

Van Huff also argued that the ordinance is unconstitutionally vague. The ordinance allows smoking in "private functions." Some owners have wondered whether they could designate all or part of their establishments as private clubs.

Michel said the ordinance is modeled on rules from other cities and is not vague.

"We took care to look at that," he said. "We tried our best to make sure our terms were well defined for constitutional purposes."

Gregg Alston, the owner of two Houston bars, said the ordinance will make it harder for him to compete with nearby cigar bars. Alston's bars doesn't have a patio.

"It puts us at a disadvantage with cigar bars, or bars that sell tobacco, which are still allowed to have smoking because of the type of business that they are," he said.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Smoking ban going to public vote in ND

NORTH DAKOTA -- It looks like West Fargo voters will have the deciding say in a complete smoking ban for the City.

West Fargo City Commissioners voted 4-1 Monday night to have City residents decide the fate of a 100 percent citywide smoking ban in a special election that could occur this November or in June of 2008 during the general city election. Commissioner Mark Simmons made the motion, with Mayor Rich Mattern and Commissioners Bryan Schulz and Lou Bennett voting in support and Commissioner Brenda Warren opposing the motion.

Simmons' motion came on the heels of a first motion made by Warren to place on first reading a smoking ban more restrictive than the City's present ban, patterned after the one that will go into effect in Minnesota on Oct. 1. Warren's motion included a stipulation that West Fargo's ordinance be the same as the one acted upon Monday night by the city of Fargo. "As city commissioners we need to step up to the plate and move forward with our neighbors," she said, before the count on her motion that failed by a 2-3 vote, with Bennett joining her with a 'yes' vote.

Simmons countered by offering the second motion, stating "I believe this should go to a vote of the people."

Before the vote, Mattern said he felt the Commission should wait a year and see how the ordinance in Moorhead plays out. "We did vote on the issue a few years ago and a total ban was voted down. I think we should wait and see how Moorhead is doing after a year."

He also added that he felt a complete ban would hurt the businesses. "These are people with homes and mortgages and college tuition to deal with. It is going to hurt the businesses. The North Dakota Legislature voted down a total ban. It should be the North Dakota Legislature that makes the decision."

Following the second vote, Warren said she was "gravely disappointed," in the outcome.

Schulz said he supported a complete smoking ban but felt sending the matter to a vote of the people was inevitable, and by voting 'no' would speed the process up and resolve the issue sooner.

Bennett said he voted for the ordinance because it would give Commissioners time to hear from Fargo on how they went with their vote.

All this action came after almost three and a half hours of sometimes emotional and heated testimony from a packed Commission chamber of proponents and opponents of a stricter ban, with those for the ban touting their right to breathe smoke free air, and opponents acknowledging their right to be able to choose for themselves.

Michelle Donarski, both a West Fargo resident and chairman of the Fargo Cass Public Health Board of Health, urged Commissioners to support a complete smoking ban. "The need to breathe smoke free air should have priority over choice," she said.

Former Miss North Dakota, Kimberly Krueger, of Fargo, also an ambassador for the American Cancer Society, told the story of her grandmother who eventually succumbed to emphysema. "I don't think it's fair. This is a public health issue. Join the 100's of cities across the U.S. who are for smoke free air."

West Fargo resident Annette Thompson spoke of the ill effects of being in a smoke filled bar – a raspy voice and sore chest. "I think this issue is choice versus change. We need to support an ordinance like this in West Fargo."

Linda Coles, chairman of the SAFE coalition, spoke on behalf of West Fargo resident Brandon Carmichael, suffering from Berger's disease, who likes to visit bars but can't because of the effect on his illness from smoking. "He supports smoke free bars," she said. "This is a step-by-step process. That's why we'd like to see West Fargo and Fargo do this. The end result is to have all people protected from secondhand smoke."

Bette Deede, a resident of Villa Parkway, who said she was speaking on behalf of her children and grandchildren, told Commissioners "as elected officials you need to protect safety. There is no safe level of secondhand smoke. How can you put a dollar value on any of your loved ones? I challenge you to quit passing the buck."

On the other side of the coin, Diane Kleven, who lives on 2nd Street West said "I thought when we voted a couple of years ago we voted for smoke free restaurants and leaving the bars alone. Why does this issue keep coming up? It should be a business owner's choice. I don't think smokers have been all that selfish. We need some places for those 21 and over to go."

Nikki Weissman, executive director of the North Dakota Hospitality Association, said she represented 800 bars throughout the state. "The decision should be left to the business owners. The freedom to make a responsible choice should be their guide."

Former City Commissioner and longtime West Fargo businessman Larry Lepird who also previously owned and operated the Silver Dollar Bar said, "Don't dictate. I would go to the people again. Let the people decide what they want to do."

West Fargo VFW Manager Richard Benson talked about the lost revenues when smoking wasn't allowed during the last ban, citing huge losses. "We had the biggest year before the smoking ban and then dropped $3 million in two years." He said gaming revenues are up considerably in the last six months after the revised ban allowed them to have smoking again. "This has been a bar issue, not a public workplace issue. Go after smoking instead of going after businesses. It's our duty if we believe in something to stand by it. We know what's good for business. Let us make that choice."

Deanna Dirks, who along with her husband Brian, operate the M&J Saloon, agreed with Benson about the choice issue. "People can make a choice to light up a cigarette and make a choice to walk into our establishment. We would lose 25 to 30 percent of our business. We can't do that and keep the doors open. I've talked to three other businesses that feel the same way. Nobody likes to be told what to do. We want things to stay the way they are."

Kurt Lepird, owner-operator of the Silver Dollar Bar, said there is more at stake than just his bar, adding that he has his family and employees to think about. "Health is important to me. My employees already smoke, so they are not being exposed to anything they didn't know about. We run our business as lean as possible. I worry about how this will affect my family, my future, their education and my retirement. I hope you make the right decision for everyone involved."

The passed motion also included directing City Attorney Brian Neugebauer to come up with smoking ban wording for the vote of the people to be approved by the Commission, with a time for the vote to be determined.

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