Thursday, November 29, 2007

Landmark legal challenge to smoking ban

ENGLAND -- A group seeking amendments to the smoking ban has asked for a Judicial Review at the High Court today.

The legal challenge will then be served on the Attorney General and the Secretary of State for Health: The Rt Hon Patricia Hewitt MP prior to new law coming into effect on 1st July.

Freedom to Choose say the ban is an erosion of freedom and personal liberties.

A pre-claim letter before action was sent on 12th June 2007 by the solicitor on behalf of the group and following an ‘unsatisfactory’ response the challenge is set to be launched.

Human rights lawyer Jaswinder Gill of law firm Ormerod’s told “The Government has made clear that they will not consider our request for amendments so it gives us no choice but to issue proceedings on behalf of Freedom to Choose.”

Speaking after issuing the papers in the High Court this afternoon, Robert Feal-Martinez, Freedom to Choose spokesman, said: "This makes me feel really good to be honest.

"On a personal level I've suffered a lot of abuse over this and all I've ever wanted to do was represent the views of the membership of Freedom to Choose.

"This is the milestone we've been aiming at and we did it at our own pace - not the pace dictated by the anti-smoking lobby."

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Smoke ban opponents file petition

COLUMBIA, MO -- When the Columbia City Council voted more than a year ago to pass an ordinance banning smoking in most public places, two business owners began their work to get it repealed.

Joel Thiel, co-owner of Otto’s Corner Bar & Grill, 38 N. Eighth St., and Betty Hamilton, owner of Tiger Club, 1116 Business Loop 70 E., showed the product of their efforts last week when they filed a petition with the city clerk’s office containing almost 3,000 signatures to repeal the ordinance.

"To me, this is not a smoking issue," Hamilton said. "This is a bar-owners’ rights issue."

Thiel and Hamilton said the ban on smoking, which the city enacted Jan. 9, unfairly takes away personal rights from residents as well as property rights from business owners. Thiel said many bars and restaurants, including his, have experienced a decrease in business since the ban. He said Otto’s is down 35 percent in sales for October compared with last year, which he attributes to the smoking ordinance.

"Even our regulars don’t come in near as much and don’t stay near as long, and I’ve heard from many that it’s because they don’t want to keep getting up to go outside to smoke," Thiel said.

City Clerk Sheela Amin said a petition to repeal an ordinance must have 2,579 signatures from qualified city voters to be considered valid. If the petition doesn’t have enough signatures, Amin said, Thiel and Hamilton will have 10 days to collect more.

The city is working with the Boone County clerk’s office to validate the signatures, and Amin hopes to finish by the end of this week.

If the petition is validated, an item to repeal the ordinance will come before the city council Nov. 19, and council members will most likely vote on it at their Dec. 3 meeting. If the city council votes against the petition, city voters will decide the issue in April.

Two new council members have joined the city council since it approved the smoking ordinance with a 4-3 vote on Oct. 10, 2006, citing public health concerns over second-hand smoke. However, both new members - Third Ward Councilman Karl Skala and Fourth Ward Councilman Jerry Wade - said they support the smoking ban. Two council members remain who voted against the ban, First Ward Councilwoman Almeta Crayton and Fifth Ward Councilwoman Laura Nauser.

Thiel said he would like to see the issue put to a vote to let the people decide.

"If we at least got a chance to vote on it, I could swallow it a lot easier," Thiel said.

Hamilton agreed. "The people should have voted on it, not seven people," she said, referring to the city council.

Thiel said about 11 other restaurants and bars helped get the petition signed. He reviewed each signature and crossed off at least 500 that didn’t appear to be from city voters. To be on the safe side, Thiel said, the petition contains about 400 more signatures than required.

Ironically, if the petition gets on the April ballot, neither Thiel nor Hamilton will get to vote; both of them live in the county.

Thiel and Hamilton, whose business has a patio, said the ban also gives bars and restaurants with patios an unfair advantage; the ordinance allows smoking on patios as long as 50 percent of the space is designated nonsmoking.

Skala said although he is in favor of the smoking ban, he agreed that businesses with patios do have an unfair advantage. "That’s the only problem I can see with it," Skala said. "I see this as a public health issue, which for me trumps the property rights issue."