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Both sides of smoking issue stage rallies

Proposed smoking ban on Nov. 2 ballot

Wednesday was a day of dueling events for the supporters and opponents of Jefferson City’s proposed smoking ban ordinance.

With the general election less than a month away, both sides of the issue began ramping up their arguments about the ordinance that, if passed by Jefferson City voters on Nov. 2, would make it illegal to smoke in bars, restaurants and other businesses.

First off the mark for the day were the opponents, informally known as Citizens for Freedom and Personal Responsibility, who held a combination strategy session/ press conference at the Coca-Cola meeting room Wednesday afternoon.

Heading the meeting was Jason Jordan, owner of Mortimer Kegley’s and designated spokesman for the group. He said the group is not an official organization, but rather a gathering of concerned residents bothered by what they see as the possibility of their rights being taken away.

“It should be the right of the business owner. As long as something is legal to do, we should be allowed to do it if our customers ask us to do it,” Jordan said. “That’s our big thing. It is not our customers asking us to go smoke-free. It’s people that don’t have anything to do with us to go smoke-free.”

Jordan fears if the ordinance is passed, it will significantly hurt his revenue stream to the point where he may have to lay off employees and possibly shut down all together.

While he did not have any solid numbers to back up the fears, others with his group did. Jenny Robben, co-owner of

“The Mission,” said she has seen the effect in dollars and cents. She said her establishment does offer the option of smoke-free shows to the performers if they wish. One band recently took the offer because it had two pregnant members. She said the revenue produced was less than half the previous time the same band played there and smoking was offered.

“We still had a nice, full house, but they came early before the cover charge, and they didn’t drink that much,” Robben said. “We ran out of lemons because of all the lemon water we offered that night.”

Currently, the group is exploring how best to proceed to strengthen their cause. One option that Robben suggested and gathered traction with the others at Wednesday’s event was to make photocopies of the proposed ordinance and distribute them to the patrons of businesses whose owners oppose the ban.

“I think that when people start reading it, they are going to realize that their rights are being taken away,” Robben said. “If they haven’t thought of it that way, then that, to me, seems to be the way to get through to them to convince them.

Later in the evening, supporters of the ban, Smokefree Jefferson City, hosted an event with a large turnout at the Capital Arts. Like their counterparts, supporters were ramping up their campaign, complete with yard signs and information packets loaded with the medical facts they are using to buttress their argument.

For Felicia Poettgen, chairperson of Smokefree Jefferson City, said the response she saw at the rally was encouraging, but not surprising, given the fact she and her colleagues were able to gain the signatures they needed for their issue in less than 12 hours.

“From that, we knew that there was a good interest,” Poettgen said.

During the rally, retired cardiologist Dr. Jack Sanders spoke on the dangers of secondhand smoke and what he felt was the need to pass the ban.

“I think people just have to realize that you have the right to make yourself sick, but you do not have the right to make other people sick,” Sanders said.

Poettgen said she understands the concerns of her counterparts about going out of business. However, she said the evidence she has seen does not support such concerns.

“The only thing I can say is that Columbia has been smoke-free for three years and there were some places that went out of business, but whether it was attributed to going smoke-free or not, who knows?” Poettgen said. “That’s the nature of the business.

“People don’t go to restaurants and bars to smoke. They go to have a drink, to have dinner with friends, to socialize. That isn’t the reason that they are going.”

As for how Poettgen and her supporters proceed from here, she said it is simply about getting the word out to as many people as possible in the next three-plus weeks. Event emcee and Jefferson City 5th Ward Councilman Dave Griffith implored the crowd to make contact with as many people as they can.

“The one thing that we do need to get across is that you need to let all of your friends, your neighbors, people that you work with know how you feel,” Griffith said. “You are the biggest advocate for us.

“Putting yard signs out in your yard is very important. But what is going to happen on Nov. 2 is the most important thing, and that is getting people out to vote.”

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