An issue that had been settled to the satisfaction of many in the community apparently has new life.
Debate over Garden City's ban on smoking in public places was rekindled Tuesday as two commissioners said they'd prefer the less stringent restrictions put in place by a new statewide smoking ban.
Garden City's ordinance, enacted in 2007, is among the toughest in Kansas. Because the newer state policy is weaker — it has notable exemptions for private clubs and state-owned casinos — the local ordinance was allowed to remain in place.
But as part of an annual review of ordinances Tuesday, the City Commission was split over whether to abandon its comprehensive ban on smoking that covers all places people gather in favor of the new state policy.
Two commissioners — Vice Mayor John Doll and Reynaldo Mesa — showed interest in such a change. Mayor J.R. Behan and Commissioner Nancy Harness said they wanted to keep the city's smoking ordinance as is.
Commissioner David Crase, who in the past agreed with maintaining the existing ordinance, was absent.
Mesa, who in 2006 pitched restrictions on smoking in public, reiterated Tuesday that he always had reservations about including fraternal organizations in a ban.
Yet in 2007, a few months after the ordinance was enacted in Garden City, Mesa rightly pointed out that efforts to curb smoking were more about health than individual business rights.
"This has always been a health issue for me," Mesa said. "Businesses are just part of a community. This community is about more than just smokers or drinkers. It's about families. This governing body is looking out for the health and welfare of this community."
As for the current city policy, it's safe to say most local residents agree.
And smokers, for the most part, have understood and respected no-smoking policies that are becoming more common in a society trying to deter the proven health hazard of secondhand smoke.
Secondhand smoke is a public health issue, and policies should apply to any place workers and patrons gather, including fraternal organizations.
It's worth noting that the timing of the local American Legion club's closure shouldn't sway commissioners as they ponder local smoking restrictions. While American Legion members cited the smoking ban as one reason for the club's financial woes, other economic factors had more of an impact, including the challenge of attracting new members — a problem that existed long before smoking restrictions were put in place.
Veterans do make a passionate, understandable argument in that they served the nation and deserve the right to run their clubs as they see fit.
Still, they should consider other perspectives. As someone who served in the military, I should have the right to go into any business or club, public or private if I'm a member, and not have to inhale toxic tobacco smoke.
Hopefully, the local American Legion can find ways to interest younger veterans, and eventually re-open the club.
As for the City Commission, it has no cause to embrace the state of Kansas' flawed approach.
Plenty of criticism has been leveled at the statewide ban because of its unfair exemptions. Policymakers should not pick and choose who to protect from a known health hazard.
Plus, considering criticism of the statewide policy as unfair, Kansas lawmakers likely will tighten the restrictions in the future. Local elected officials should allow that process to unfold before hastily abandoning an ordinance that has served this community well.
This is no time for Garden City to take a step backward. Local officials should continue to acknowledge the health benefit for all in the community — as Commissioner Mesa so eloquently pointed out in 2007 — and maintain the city's ban on smoking in public places.
E-mail Editor-publisher Dena Sattler at denas@ gctelegram.com.