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Ridgeland joins ranks of smoke-free

People who are bothered by cigarette smoke will find a safe haven in the city of Ridgeland beginning July 19. The city’s Board of Alderman unanimously passed an ordinance June 19 declaring the city a smoke-free environment. Under the new ordinance, businesses will be required to post “no smoking” signs and take up ashtrays on or before the July 19 date.

“We had a group of residents who approached us about going smoke-free,” said Ridgeland’s Mayor Gene McGee. “We started looking into it to see if it would be the right thing for the city.”

Other cities in the state have gone smoke-free prior to Ridgeland. Since the release of a report in 2006 by the U.S. Surgeon General, Tupelo, Mantachie, Oxford, Hernando and Hattiesburg have become smoke-free towns. The Surgeon General’s report on secondhand smoke provided scientific evidence that secondhand smoke causes serious diseases including lung cancer, heart disease and respiratory illnesses.

“We’ve had several people tell us there were restaurants in Ridgeland that they had stopped going to due to the smoke,” McGee said. “They tell us that once the ordinance goes into effect, they’ll visit those restaurants again. We believe that it will make a big difference in the quality of life here, and that it will have a positive economic impact on the city. As a matter of fact, approximately 90% of the people who have spoken to me about this ordinance are really excited and in favor of the change.”

McGee said that several restaurants that allowed smoking encouraged the mayor and aldermen to seriously consider passing an ordinance to cease smoking in bars and restaurants. “They didn’t want to have to be the ‘bad guy’ with their smoking customers, but they knew that the smoke was driving many non-smoking customers away. Now that it’s the law, they don’t have a choice, so they don’t look so bad in the eyes of the smokers.”

The ordinance was closely modeled after those ordinances in Tupelo, Hattiesburg and Oxford. “It works for them, just as it works in all of California and New York, so we knew we could make it work here,” said McGee.

Ridgeland is the first city in the metro area to go smoke-free. Madison has a voluntary ban, which seems to work well for that city. “We are hoping this catches on in other metro-area cities,” McGee said.

There were some provisions made in the ordinance to allow restaurants with outdoor dining areas to allow smoking. According to Mayor McGee, up to 50% of the outdoor dining area can be set up for smoking customers, as long as people don’t have to walk through the outdoor dining area to access the main entrance of the restaurant or bar.

Under the new ordinance, people who smoke can be fined $50, while businesses that continue to allow smoking face fines up to $100 and may even have city licenses or permits suspended. Ridgeland’s Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Commission supports the bill. “And of course, we have full support from the American Heart Association and the American Cancer Association,” McGee stated. “We’ve had lots of help from Dr. Ralph Vance, an oncologist and former national president of the American Cancer Society. From all we’ve learned in studying this, there are just too many reasons for us to go smoke-free.”

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