Gulfport became the 25th Mississippi city with a smoking ban when a new ordinance went into effect May 1. The list is growing as Meridian, Grenada and Laurel consider enacting bans, and Jackson looks at expanding its ban.
A smoking ban came up for discussion in Biloxi recently but has been tabled, subject to being called up again, according to City Council president Ed Gemmill.
“Any council member can bring it up at any time,” he said. “I don’t believe right now we have the momentum to pass it. I believe in free enterprise; businesses are free to set aside non-smoking areas if they choose.”
At odds with casinos?
However, Kathie Short, a full-time advocate for healthcare, says the biggest obstacle in passing a smoking ban in Biloxi are the city’s casinos, which was not the case in Gulfport.
“We just held the (Mississippi) State Medical Association annual meeting at the Beau Rivage in Biloxi,” she said. “There were so many complaints from attendees about walking through the smoke-filled casino to get to meetings that the group voted not to go back there for future conventions.”
Vincent Creel, spokesman for Mayor A.J. Holloway, said the mayor imposed a ban on smoking at all city facilities and at the Biloxi Sports Complex in the early 1990s.
“However, the mayor feels that businesses should make their own decisions, and they should do so based on the wishes of their clientele,” he added. “The City Council has not seemed inclined to impose a smoking ban on businesses at this point.”
Another Coast city, Long Beach, also tabled a smoking ordinance.
Earline Cuave, health initiatives representative with the American Heart Association, points out that Gulfport’s ban is not a gold level, which means everything is smoke free such as it is in Hattiesburg. She is hopeful the ban will pass in Laurel where a strong medical community is supporting it.
“We always push for the gold ordinance because that is more effective in preventing second-hand smoke,” she said. “We were active in getting the Gulfport ban passed, and are getting a favorable response from it. I have it from a good source that some business owners are trying to blame a slow down on the ban, but we think it’s the economy taking a hit now. In time, they won’t feel that way if they have a good product.”
Executive director of the Mississippi Hospitality and Restaurant Association Mike Cashion also says it’s hard to distinguish between negative effects of smoking bans in the state and a slowing economy among his members.
“Those restaurants that serve alcohol have seen the biggest impact,” he said. “Of course this coupled with the problems with the economy have caused significant problems. That is where the real story lies.”
Elizabeth Shipp, communications director with the state chapter of the American Lung Association, says her organization is working with the Heart Association and American Cancer Society to help cities who solicit their assistance enact bans.
“It (smoking ban) really is growing. Citifies are stepping up to the plate and making Mississippi healthier,” she said. “We like to see fully comprehensive ordinances because we want to protect all workers. Someone working in a restaurant should have the same protection as someone working in a bank.”
As it currently exists, Jackson’s ordinance, according to Shipp, excludes restaurants and bars. The Lung Association is working with Smoke Free Jackson and showing up at city council meetings to try to get those businesses included.
No smoking — period
Short says the state’s healthcare organizations are totally opposed to any smoking. “With the crisis of the medical uninsured in Mississippi, we are very aware that most of our lung problem cases are people with no insurance,” she said. “Eventually the state will go smoke free. Hospitals are giving smoking cessation programs, and we are pushing for Blue Cross to cover smoking cessation drugs.”
She works with the American and Mississippi Medical Association Alliances for smoking education. These groups are opposed to movies geared to children that show smoking. They are launching a national campaign, ScreenOut, to put out a list of offending movies and inform the public.
Statistics released by the Lung Association reveal that of the general Mississippi population, only 23.9% smoke. By gender, 27.8% of males smoke and 20.4% of females. The highest percentage of smokers are found among those making less than $15,000 per year and who have less than a high school education. Slightly more whites smoke (24.4%) than blacks (22.5%).
There is no statewide smoking ban, but advocates are optimistic one is on the horizon as more municipalities adopt bans.
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynn Lofton at email@example.com.