Businesses smoke out smokers

Published 3:37 pm Sunday, April 8, 2007

When calls are coming in left and right, Cheryl Havard, a dispatcher at the Adams County Sheriff’s Office, feels the pressure. That’s when she wants a cigarette the most.

But because she works in a government building, her addiction often has to go without quenching.

“Back here (in the dispatch room), when I get nervous and hyped up, when I’m in a situation when I can’t leave, that’s when I just want a cigarette,” Havard said.

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Havard is part of a growing minority of Americans being nearly forced to quit. Smoking bans in public buildings, restaurants, schools and sometimes even bars have driven some smokers to kick the habit out of convenience.

A smoker for 34 years, Havard has seen others who work in the county government building quit for good.

“It’s a big pain to have to smoke somewhere else,” she said. “They’re pretty good about letting us go, but sometimes you just can’t get away.”

The number of smokers in the United States has been on a steady decline since the mid-1990s, according to numbers from the Centers for Disease Control. Twenty percent of the country currently smokes.

In Louisiana, a statewide ban on public smoking went into effect Jan. 1.

The ban prohibits smoking in any public building, in any school and in any enclosed business — which includes the vast majority of restaurants.

But the change wasn’t a major one for much of Concordia Parish.


Sonny’s Pizza owner Tom Carney said he removed smoking from his restaurant almost two years before the ban went into effect.

“I quit smoking myself two years ago, and I removed it from the restaurant then,” he said.

Profits weren’t affected, he said.

“There were a couple of ladies with kids who complained about the smoking,” Carney said. “And no non-smoker wants to sit one table over from someone who is puffing one cigarette after another. I know I don’t.”

Though two groups of regular customers threatened to take their business elsewhere, only one of those groups actually did, he said.

“Are there people who still go outside and smoke?” Carney said. “Sure. But I’ve also had folks tell me that they think business is better now that we don’t have smoking in the store.”

With no state smoking ban in Mississippi, Natchez restaurant owners can make their own decisions.

John Holyoak, the general manager overseeing The Castle said the restaurant has a smoking section.

“In the restaurant the (kitchen area) is completely non-smoking and we put the smokers in the pub to try and accommodate both smokers and non-smokers,” Holyoak said.

Nikki Gillespie, owner of Nikki’s Restaurant in Vidalia since June 2006, said she’s seen changes in her business since the smoking ban went into effect.

“We’ve lost some customers like our coffee drinkers who smoke. They would come in here from about 2 to 5 p.m. and hang out and shoot the bull but now they just hang around for about 30 minutes,” she said. “But we’ve gained some customers too, like big families with children who may have allergies.”

Gillespie said she was glad the state made a tough decision for her.

“The state of Louisiana has taken that off my shoulders,” she said.

Government buildings

Likewise, implementing the ban in Concordia’s parish-owned buildings didn’t present much of a challenge, Police Jury Secretary Russell Wagoner said.

Smoking had already been prohibited in the courthouse for about five years, he said.

“All that we did was move the designated smoking area a little further away from the building,” Wagoner said.

Wagoner said he did not know of any problems implementing the ban at other parish-owned facilities.

The ban will allow smoking at correctional facilities — whether state, local or private — until Aug. 15, 2009. From that date, smoking will no longer be allowed at those locations.

In Mississippi, residents can’t light up in any government building — whether it’s a state, county or city building, universities included.

Pamela Patterson, an administrative assistant in city hall, said she appreciates the current law banning smoking in government buildings. The law should go even further, she said.

“I think they should do the same thing as in Louisiana,” Patterson said.

Natchez Personnel Management Director Patricia Gibson, another non-smoker, agreed.

“As a nonsmoker, it’s great to work in a smoke-free environment,” Gibson said. “My mother just quit, and that’s the best thing she could have done for me.”

Adams County Sheriff’s Office Investigator Ricky Stephens, a self-professed smoker, said not being able to smoke at work doesn’t bother him much. He just steps outside.

A smoking ban like Louisiana’s wouldn’t affect him much, either, he said.

“I still go out to eat in Louisiana because I know I’m only going to be there for 45 minutes to an hour,” Stephens said. “If I can’t go that long without a cigarette, I know I’m in serious trouble.”


Smoking bans in school buildings are nothing new, but extending the law to affect parking lots, central office buildings and football games has raised a few eyebrows.

Several Concordia Parish School Board members questioned whether they could smoke in their cars on the nights of board meetings. The answer: “No.”

The Concordia Parish School Board took a pro-active stance in response to the smoking ban, extending it by banning smoking on any school board-owned property.

Because the state has a fining system that would fine both the smoker and the school system for a violation of the ban, the school board is not allowing for any exception, Superintendent Kerry Laster said.

“Some schools have created an exception where they let teachers or staff walk across the street from the property to smoke,” Laster said.

In Natchez, stipulations that come with federal dollars prohibit smoking on school grounds, Superintendent Anthony Morris said.

“It’s hard to enforce in places like football games,” Morris said. “At athletic events, a standard announcement is made.”

School employees found smoking first face a warning, then a fine and ultimately termination, Morris said.

“It’s hard for our smokers, what some of them do is take a ride around the block during their planning time,” he said.


The hotel industry is slowly converting many old smoking rooms into non-smoking ones, because that’s what customers want, local managers said.

“We definitely don’t need as many smoking rooms as we used to,” Days Inn Manager Tammy Gossett said. “We just did some remodeling, in fact, and converted some smoking rooms to non-smoking rooms. It still appears we need more non-smoking rooms in the future, which is something I’m going to look into.”

Of the 121 rooms at Days Inn, 42 are smoking.

Eola Hotel manager Ron Brumfield said they have one floor of smoking rooms, 20 in total.

“Most people who come in really don’t want you to have smoking at all,” he said.

The future

As the number of smokers continues to dwindle, lawmakers are considering more and more bans.

Some Mississippi lawmakers would like to see a statewide ban on smoking in public places, such as restaurants and bars, which would mirror that in Louisiana.

Sen. Bob Dearing (D-Natchez) is one of those lawmakers.

“I co-authored a bill this year that basically prohibited smoking in public places, except for enclosed bars and casinos,” Dearing said.

The bill didn’t make out of committee, but it addressed the sometimes-controversial topic, just the same.

And Dearing’s not stopping there. He said he would continue to pursue the issue in the future.

“I want to get re-elected, and that’s going to be one of my top priorities,” Dearing said. “I think secondhand smoke is very dangerous to your health. It affects so many people.”

For Rep. Sam Mims (R-McComb), it’s a matter of private right.

“There are pieces of legislation each year that deal with smoking,” Mims said. “I think we have to be very careful when looking at smoking in businesses and restaurants. If you have an individual who has invested his resources and has his own business, it’s very difficult for me to tell that individual he cannot smoke in his or her business.”

Mims, who has asthma, said he as a customer can choose whether or not he wants to be around smoke. The choice should be up to individual businesses and possibly municipalities, he said.

“I just don’t think the state government should make that determination,” he said.

James Cecil Harris, an Adams County smoker for 50 years, said he would be very opposed to a ban on smoking in restaurants and businesses.

“I think a person should be able to enjoy whatever he wants,” Harris said. “I don’t think it should be somebody else’s decision.”

He said he thought a ban like that would really affect bars and coffee shops.

“I enjoy a good cup of coffee and a cigarette before I start out in the morning,” he said. “If you take smoking out of restaurants and coffee houses, they’re going to have a problem.”

But Sgt. Fran Christie, a corrections officer who works in the Adams County jail, said she would love a ban like Louisiana’s.

“If I go out dancing and it’s so clogged up I can’t breathe, I’m out of there,” Christie said. “I don’t go into a building with heavy smoke. I avoid it like the plague.”

Julie Cottrell, Julie Finley and Wesley Steckler contributed to this report