Payson Smoking Debate Lights Up

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Ray Sexton, owner of the Beeline Cafe, remembers the day he banned smoking from his diner six years ago.

The few tables of the nonsmoking area were full, but he had nonsmoking clients who wanted to eat. He sat them in the empty smoking area.

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May 1, the city of Flagstaff extinguished smoking in most all public areas including pool halls, bars and restaurants. Smokers in Payson could face similar restrictions.

And then a smoker came in who wanted to sit next to the nonsmokers.

"The smoker insisted he sit down at that table," Sexton said. "I asked him to move to the back table. He got so mad. He was boiling. He turned over tables and threw a fit. That was the straw that broke the camel's back. The next day, I put out a sign that said ‘no smoking.'"

Sexton said his business dropped off at first.

"A couple of old ladies said they'd never come back because they couldn't smoke," he said. "It took about a month to pick back up again -- once people heard we were nonsmoking, the nonsmokers started coming in."

Nearly every state in the union today has passed local and state laws banning smoking in and around certain public establishments.

May 1, the city of Flagstaff extinguished smoking in most all public areas including pool halls, bars and restaurants.

And soon, smokers in Payson could face similar restrictions.

Payson Mayor Barbara Brewer and Vice Mayor Judy Buettner said they think the time has come to make Payson predominantly smoke free, except in bars, but that the voters, not the town council should decide the matter.

"I believe this town belongs to the people and the people should decide," Brewer said. "I, personally, would like to see it no smoking but on something like this, I would want the voters to decide."

Brewer said that she has no problem with directing the town legal department to draft a resolution on the issue if there were a petition with enough signatures to get a proposition on the ballot.

Buettner, whose first husband died of lung cancer, knows first-hand the effects of cigarette smoking.

"I won't go to places where there is smoke, but I am still cognizant of the fact that people have choices," Buettner said. "I would rather put it to a vote of the people than have the council make that decision."

Back in 1992, Trey Ryder formed a group called Citizens for Smoke Free Air just for that reason. Ryder's cause gathered momentum, and membership increased to about 1,000.

"We tried to get a law through in town council," Ryder said. "But everyone on the town council was a smoker. The next May of 1992, the referendum went on the ballot -- it was soundly defeated."

Ryder said he and others who campaigned received threats from smokers, but in spite of the strong smoking contingent here in Payson, they carried on. In the end, Proposition 200 was defeated.

"I was disappointed because our own people let us down," Ryder said. "The nonsmokers didn't care enough to vote."

But attitudes in this community have changed since 1992.

Town Councilor Tim Fruth said he would like to see the issue go before Payson voters.

"I think enough communities have passed similar ordinances now and it has been shown that it hasn't hurt businesses," Fruth said. "I have talked with several restaurant owners who would like to make their businesses smoke-free, but still allow (smoking) because they feel it gives them a perceived advantage."

Although several restaurants refused to comment on their position regarding smoking, Diane Sexton of the Beeline Cafe said business hasn't been hurt. If anything, it's picked up.

"It was offensive to the customers who didn't smoke," she said.

"The restaurant got so busy that you couldn't barely stand the smoke," her brother-in-law, Ray Sexton, said. "I got worried about my workers' health."

And health was much of the impetus behind Ryder's passion for his nonsmoking campaign. His wife, Stephanie, has an allergic reaction to cigarette smoke that leaves her breathless and gasping for air.

The Ryders enjoy eating out, and found there were few places they could go in Payson without breathing in smoke.

"We've had to leave a restaurant because of smoke," Ryder said. "(The restaurants are) scared to death to lose business."

"If a referendum was passed and made the playing field equal amongst the restaurants, they would prefer to be smoke-free," Fruth said.

The council, though composed of nonsmokers, said they believe bars should be exempt from a future ordinance.

"In a bar, people know what they are getting into," Fruth said. "That's the big difference."

Ryder said keeping smoking legal in bars is really just a matter of economics.

"Bars want a smoking crowd because they want the drinking crowd," Ryder said. "That's how they make their money."

Meanwhile, there are those who will not stop smoking no matter what the consequences.

Jake Williams, Sissie Honea and Honea's 84-year-old mother, Mickie Killman walked into a Payson restaurant Monday evening to enjoy a meal and a cigarette.

Among the three of them, they've been smoking for 150 years.

"I think people should have the privilege to smoke if they want to," Honea said. "We went to that new Mexican restaurant once. They told us there was no smoking allowed in the restaurant. Well, we told them that's the last time we would go in there -- and we haven't been back since."

Honea's mother, Killman, has been a smoker since World War II. She picked up the habit while her husband was fighting overseas.

"My husband was in the service and he was away," she said. "I was lonesome. I had to stay home by myself with three kids. One day I found a pack of my husband's cigarettes. I started playing with them and began smoking. I've been smoking ever since."

Williams considers himself a polite smoker.

"We try to be considerate," he said. "We are willing to sit in a smoking section when we go out to eat."

"If it still bothers them, maybe they need to go somewhere else," Honea added.

Active smoking kills 430,000, while secondhand smoke claims the lives of 53,000 Americans a year, said Dr. Stan Glantz, a leading researcher on smoking at the University of California, San Francisco.

"If the town votes to take smoking away from restaurants, what will it accomplish? Everybody knows smoking is bad for us, but they're not going to cure us by not letting us smoke in restaurants," Honea said.

Nonsmoking Restaurants in Payson

Del Taco

Mandarin House

Pizza Factory

Pizza Hut

Arby's

Cousins

Jack-in-the-Box

McDonald's

Subway

Taco Bell

Wendy's

Cucina Paradiso

Small Cafe

Alfonso's

Burger King

Crosswinds (as of June 1)

Knotty Pine

Beeline Cafe

Fiesta Mexicana

Sesame Inn

Facts about secondhand smoke

  • Causes approximately 3,000 lung cancer deaths, and 35,000 heart disease deaths a year
  • Nonsmokers exposed to secondhand smoke at work are at increased risk for adverse health effects.
  • Levels of environmental tobacco smoke in restaurants and bars were found to be 2 to 5 times higher than in residences with smokers.
  • Contains about 4,000 chemicals, including 200 known poisons, such as formaldehyde and carbon monoxide, as well as 43 carcinogens.

-- Source American Lung Association

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