Last updated: February 18. 2014 3:17PM - 2165 Views
By Travis McMullen Contributing Columnist

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Maybe we should keep tinkering with the highly controversial Sedalia smoking ban until it slowly excludes every establishment that serves as much as a drop of alcohol.

Imagine being able to smoke in the liquor aisle at Woods and at the back of your favorite convenience store! Being able to smoke and drink at the same time regardless of circumstance is one of our most important constitutional rights.

Sedalia has its fair share of watering holes of various sizes that cater to various clientele. I have no doubt the smoking ban is financially tough on some of the smaller bars that are on the new potential exemption list. Many of these are neighborhood-driven bars with personal relationships with their patrons. It’s not easy to tell that guy who has been having a tough day to put out that cigarette because the city says he should.

But slowly but surely removing the teeth of the standing ban is not the right thing to do. A ban that is eventually effectively negotiated into worthlessness might as well not exist and will be a monument to bureaucratic failure. Soon it could be a ban that only affects the kind of establishments that already ban smoking on their own accord. When the squeaky wheel gets the grease, all the other wheels magically start squeaking.

In the pages of the Sedalia Democrat we are seeing the beginnings of a war of bitter words between those establishments that are sufficiently “private” to allow both alcohol consumption and smoking and the establishments that aren’t “private” enough to do so.

Acceptance of the proposed list of exemptions will mean that most of the bars in Sedalia have eluded the smoking ban. Downtown Sedalia will find itself divided into sections with bars that allow smoking and bars that don’t. The space between the Ivory Grille and Coach’s will be a veritable no man’s land.

I don’t know of many other sorts of establishments where the smoke level was a serious concern before the ban. It was always a thing that affected drinking and eating establishments most of all — some people seem driven to hurt the respiratory system while they hurt the liver, as though those effects will offset. If the ban, as it stands, doesn’t affect at least a serious majority of the bars in town then it really doesn’t affect anything.

Fourty-four of the 60 highest populated cities in the United States ban smoking in all restaurants and bars. Twenty-one cities in the state of Missouri do the same thing. Even if the smoking ban wasn’t already here, it would be coming.

So there are two options: either we stop fiddling with the smoking ban and let the chips fall where they may or we repeal it entirely and wait for Clean Air Sedalia to create an amendment that we can put to a vote. We live in a land of democracy and when a situation is this controversial for this long we hear the more frequent calls for it to be put to a vote. I would be fine with that.

Of course, this call comes from both sides because they are both sure that the eternal silent majority thinks in the same way that they do — my way is the right way, and surely most people would end up at the right conclusion just like me.

But I have absolutely no faith that either side really wants to submit fully to the authority of localized democracy in lieu of their preferred outcome. They will both defend the will of the Sedalians right up until the second they lose. Clearly, the people don’t sufficiently support freedom/health (choose your preferred word). We’ll keep working to make sure that, blah blah.

There’s really no win and no end in sight no matter what we do. Tinkering with the existing ban is only going to fuel the firestorm. There will be some that will be satisfied with the results of a vote but not enough to make the controversy go away entirely. A vote would probably reduce the controversy a little bit, I guess.

Frankly, I’m surprised there haven’t been any novelty lawsuits filed to stop the smoking ban. But the controversy is still young.

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