Dayton votes to go smoke-free

Haley Parnell
Haley Parnell
Haley is a reporter for LINK nky. Email her at [email protected]

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In a 3-2 vote, Dayton City Council passed an ordinance banning indoor smoking, but not without pushback from residents and business owners.

Three businesses in Dayton still allow indoor smoking: Tony’s Ole Saloon, the Rose Room, and Manhattan Harbour Yacht Club. With three smoke-friendly establishments in the city, those opposed to the ordinance didn’t hesitate to speak up.

Patricia Flynn, the owner of the bar Rose Room, said she is worried about losing her customers who smoke.

“If you send the smokers out of our business, they’ll just go to Bellevue. They’ll keep moving,” Flynn said. “We see 45 people, 30 out of 45 people might smoke.”

Flynn said she would be willing to put a sign on the door stating they are a smoking establishment, and customers would have the choice to come in or not.

“I’m lucky if I get 20 people a night in that place,” Flynn said. “You pass this ordinance. I guarantee you that will be another empty, vacant building in Dayton.”

During the Sept. 6 meeting, Dayton City Council Member Beth Nyman asked Flynn if she had considered if people would be more likely to come to the Rose Room if her bar was nonsmoking.

Flynn said she had customers who signed a petition against the ordinance that showed otherwise but did not specify how many people had signed it.

The smoke-free ordinance was modified to allow smokers to step outside of an establishment, with no minimum distance, to smoke.

“It is what most places do in the region already,” President and CEO of the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce Brent Cooper said.

Cooper said the ordinance is about community health.

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According to a presentation by Breathe Easy Northern Kentucky at the Dayton City Council meeting on June 7, Kentucky ranks as the second-highest state, behind West Virginia, for the number of smokers among residents.

Twenty-four percent of Northern Kentuckians smoke compared to 15.3% nationally. Statistics show that 22% of Campbell County residents smoke, according to Breathe Easy Northern Kentucky.

Nyman asked Cooper why Breathe Easy Northern Kentucky was trying to start the smoke-free ordinance in Dayton.

“I think Dayton is a leader,” Cooper said. “I think that if we can implement something like this in Dayton, it will snowball to the rest of the region.”

Other people questioned why the ordinance wasn’t brought to the state or county level.

“We went to the state of Kentucky,” Cooper said. “They said that’s a local decision. So here we are.”

A smoke-free ordinance has been brought up by the Campbell County Fiscal Court in the past and was shut down.

“It’s a little stressful to have this just on Dayton when we are surrounded by alternatives for this ordinance to go to,” Nyman said.

Dayton resident Todd Hembrook said he had been a bartender for over 20 years in four or five different cities. He spoke in favor of the ordinance at the meeting.

“I’ve worked in venues, I’ve worked in dive bars, I’ve worked in dive-dive bars, I’ve worked in hell holes, I’ve worked in cocktail bars, I’ve worked in piano bars,” Hembrook said. “I’ve gone through two different cities where the smoking ban has happened. And everyone thought the sky was going to fall. Everyone was going, ‘Oh, we’re going to lose business like 30% or 40%’ or ‘Oh, I heard 45%.’ I lost maybe two customers the first night. Everybody knew it was going to be OK after that.”

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Tim Hall, the owner of Hometown Heroes, a smoke-free business in Dayton, spoke at the meeting to support Flynn and her business.

Hall mentioned that all three places that allow smoking in the city are 21-and-over businesses. He also said it is a choice to patronize a smoking business, and it should be left a choice.

“Instead of us being the first city council to place a ban, how about we’re the first city council in Northern Kentucky to say we preserve all choice?” Hall said.

But Cooper brought up concerns about employees at the establishments that still allow smoking.

“Are there employees in Dayton who are working in a bar or restaurant who don’t smoke and don’t want to breathe in smoke? Absolutely, there are,” Cooper said.

Nyman agreed. She said she had spoken with an employee at an indoor smoking business, and they told her they didn’t like working around people smoking.

“If the owners or somebody smokes, their employees will be breathing the secondhand smoke, so it’s not really a safe environment for employees,” Nyman said. “Is it fair to say go get another job? Don’t work here. Is that where we want to go?”

Dayton City Council Member Joe Neary called the ordinance overly restrictive.

“Even having an ashtray in a business would be an offense under this ordinance unless they can prove that they’re not for sale or it isn’t used,” Neary said. “I smoke. I’ve smoked for 40-something years. Forgive me. I don’t go to any property, assuming that smoking is allowed. In fact, that’s an anomaly in today’s world.”

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Neary said of the Dayton residents he has spoken with that “80% are opposed” to the ordinance. He said emails he has received in support of the ordinance have come from individuals outside the city. He added that the council was there to represent Dayton citizens.

“This ordinance will absolutely and negatively impact the few existing Dayton businesses where the business owners do allow smoking, and they rely on that clientele for their revenue,” Neary said.

But Nyman said she would visit the Rose Room if it were a nonsmoking bar. 

Some residents and business owners said they might be more open to the ordinance if a “grandfather clause” would allow the existing smoking establishments to continue to allow indoor smoking.

Dayton City Administrator Jay Fossett said a regulatory ordinance, such as the smoke-free ordinance, does not allow for grandfather clauses.

After much deliberation, the ordinance passed in a 3-2 vote. Council members Neary and Jessica Lovins both voted against it.

After the first motion to approve the ordinance, the owner of Hometown Heroes, Tim Hall, left the meeting. Immediately following the final vote, those against the ordinance also left.

Fossett said the police department would oversee handing out fines for violations under the ordinance.

There is a minimum fine of $250 but no maximum amount that can be fined. The money from the fines will go to the city. Fossett said the health department would only be liable for fines if someone violated the ordinance during a regularly scheduled visit.

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