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Smoking Q&A reveals more restraints

Stephanie Backus/FULTON SUN photo: Bill Johnson talks to business and county leaders on Thursday about how the smoking ban is going to be implemented. The ban begins at 12:01 a.m. on Saturday.

Stephanie Backus/FULTON SUN photo: Bill Johnson talks to business and county leaders on Thursday about how the smoking ban is going to be implemented. The ban begins at 12:01 a.m. on Saturday.

A discussion session intended to answer questions from local business owners regarding the new indoor smoking ban in Fulton provided a few surprises for those in attendance Thursday afternoon.

The biggest of those was restrictions regarding employees’ ability to smoke in their own vehicles.

That issue was sparked when someone asked about customers smoking in drive-thrus. According to Sec. 93-6 of the ordinance written by Fresh Air Fulton and passed by voters on Nov. 2, smoking is prohibited within 15 feet of “...operable windows and ventilation systems of enclosed areas where smoking is prohibited, so as to insure that tobacco smoke does not enter those areas.”

“So if a customer is smoking, do I ask them to put it out?” the business representative asked.

“The answer I’m going to give you today is yes, but it’s complaint-based,” Director of Administration Bill Johnson responded.

The question then was asked if people were in violation of the ordinance if they are smoking in their car, which usually is considered private property.

“If you’re on the job in a vehicle, you can’t smoke,” Johnson said repeatedly in response to questions regarding employees’ ability to smoke in private vehicles whether they are on break or sitting in their car more than 15 feet from a business entrance.

“It’s against the ordinance to smoke in a vehicle if you’re on the clock.”

“Who wrote this ordinance?” asked Jody Paschal, owner of Gidley’s Shoes on Court Street. “I’m just aghast we’re telling people they can’t smoke in their own vehicles.”

Tiffany Bowman, who said she provided technical assistance to Fresh Air Fulton when the group was writing the ordinance said the intent in including vehicles in the ban was to “protect coworkers if you’re going to a conference or making a delivery with a coworker.”

“You have to remember, (enforcement) is complaint-driven,” she said.

Although the question of smoking in vehicles seemed to draw the most outrage, the crowd gathered at Fulton City Hall Thursday afternoon had many more questions.

“I have a building with tenants upstairs; can they smoke up there on that level?” one property owner asked.

“I’m not going to go into private quarters,” Johnson replied.

Paschal asked what the consequences are if merchants refuse to put up no smoking signs as required by the ordinance.”

“There’s a clause here that other violations (aside from smoking or allowing smoking inside a business) is a nuisance,” Johnson said.

City prosecuting attorney Chris Wilson said the fine for a public nuisance violation is up to $100 for the first violation, up to $200 for a second violation in the same year and up to $500 for a third violation in the same year.

“And the city has other options in terms of licensing,” Wilson added.

Another audience member asked whether someone smoking while they walk down the sidewalk — particularly downtown where there are many businesses in close proximity to one another — would be considered in violation.

“We are not going to go after that, but you’ve got to keep moving,” Johnson said.

Someone asked whether it would be a violation to smoke in front of businesses that have closed, such as Fuller’s Jewelry.

“Say they want to get out of the wind and they stand in the doorway and smoke?” they asked.

Johnson said they would be allowed as it is not a business with employees. In response to a related question regarding smoking in front of businesses after operating hours, he said “I think that’s okay.”

Yet another question concerned the use of smoke-free or battery-operated cigarettes. Johnson said the ordinance defines smoking as inhaling, exhaling, burning or carrying any lighted or heated cigar, cigarette or pipe in any manner or form.

Another question of interest was whether business owners would be responsible for people smoking near back entrances or within 15 feet even if they could not see the violation.

“As a business owner, you’re fine until somebody brings it to your attention,” Johnson said. “It is then your responsibility to go to them and tell them to put it out.”

Paschal had another question, regarding whether the ordinance applies to businesses where there are no employees.

“If you are the sole (service) provider, it applies,” Johnson said. “If you operate a tax service out of your home, it applies. If you call a plumber, your house has become a place of business (while they are there) and you can’t smoke.”

Johnson said the ordinance also applies to churches that have staff members, as well as hotels — which will not be allowed to offer smoking rooms.

Paschal asked how many signatures are required to put the smoking question back on the ballot. Johnson responded that it would take 734 signatures from registered Fulton voters.

Someone asked whether the city council can amend the ordinance even though it had been voted into existence by Fulton residents.

“Yes. It’s very clear in the charter that it is no different than any other ordinance,” Johnson said. “On the other hand, it’s the only ordinance approved by voters. Based on that, I think it will be a while before the city council says ‘We think citizens were wrong, and we’re going to change it.’”

The Fresh Air Fulton ordinance, which prohibits smoking inside businesses, goes into effect at 12:01 a.m. on Saturday.

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