When Dallas Dinwiddie returned home each night from her job at the Frontier Club in Meridian, she would stop in the garage, take off her work clothes and leave them there overnight. She didn’t want to bring the smell of smoke into her house.
Now she doesn’t have to. In April, the bar renovated its interior, and with that, became smoke-free.
The bar at 116 E. Broadway Ave. is one of just two in downtown Meridian where smoking is barred. Dinwiddie said business has skyrocketed.
“A lot of people don’t like smoking anymore,” she said. “To get that business that wasn’t coming to downtown Meridian because everything was smoking, we offered a different style of bar.”
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But four other downtown bars could soon be forced to go smoke-free as well. Following Boise and countless cities around the country, a Meridian City Councilman is proposing a citywide ban on smoking in businesses open to the public and within 20 feet of buildings.
Most newer bars and restaurants do not permit smoking indoors, so the ordinance may have its greatest impact on downtown bars that have allowed smoking for many years.
A 2004 state law already bars indoor smoking in most public places and in public meetings but exempts bars and businesses that either don’t serve the public or have five or fewer employees. The law allows local governments to go further. So far, Boise is the only Treasure Valley city to have banned smoking in bars and businesses. Twin Falls is considering a ban, too.
Meridian’s ordinance was proposed by Council Vice President Luke Cavener, who is also the Idaho director of government affairs for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network. He worked to pass Boise’s ban on smoking, which took effect in 2012.
“This is about creating a healthier downtown — a healthier Meridian — both for the public and for the employees,” Cavener told the Statesman in an interview.
But smoking bars are resisting.
On a Tuesday night at the Busted Shovel, Danny Long, 73, was taking a break from his own bar — the White Water Saloon at 1646 N. Meridian Road, which could also be affected — to grab a drink and light up.
“There’s so many other bars in town. Why would they force me to do something I don’t want to do?” he said. Four in five of his customers smoke, he added.
“It’s our right to smoke,” said Brent Fratto, 57, another customer at the Busted Shovel. He said that if the ban passed, he would stop going to downtown bars.
Domonic Williamson, 24, agreed. “I’d probably just drink at home,” he said.
The Frontier Club saw a different response from customers. “The more people that find we’re nonsmoking, the more business we get,” Dinwiddie said. During its renovations, the bar also built an outdoor patio where people can still smoke.
Many in Meridian already favor such a ban. A spring 2017 survey of 523 Meridian households, conducted for the city, found that 70 percent of survey respondents favor an ordinance that would ban smoking in all indoor public places, including bars.
For Cavener, the ordinance is about public health.
“The reduction in tobacco use directly correlates with the reduction of cancer,” he said.
A study of municipal smoking ordinances in the journal Tobacco Control found that the regulations did not increase the number of people who stopped smoking, but did increase the likelihood of making an attempt at quitting among smokers who had tried to quit before. Other studies have shown that the ordinances help reduce second-hand smoke exposure among teens.
One business could be exempted: The Vault, the cigar lounge at 140 E. Idaho Avenue owned by Josh Evarts. The City Council and Meridian’s urban renewal district chose the Meridian businessman’s proposal to redevelop the old City Hall property, where he plans to construct two four-story mixed use buildings.
Cavener has been in talks with Evarts on an exemption. The lounge expressly attracts smokers and could be treated differently, Cavener said.
For Evarts, there’s a difference between cigarette smoking and the cigars he sells. “Seventy-five percent of our revenue comes from premium cigars and tobacco-related products like cutters and lighters. We don’t sell cigarettes,” he said. “If the ban passes, we close our doors, and downtown Meridian loses an economic development engine.”
Evarts said the store averages $37,500 in monthly sales and employs five people, including him and his wife. Even with possible concessions to The Vault, it’s unclear whether Cavener has the political clout to win four votes on the six-member council, where Mayor Tammy de Weerd votes when needed to break ties.
When he proposed it during an Oct. 9 meeting, Council President Joe Borton and Councilman Ty Palmer said they would consider a smoking ordinance. But Councilwoman Anne Little Roberts said it may be unnecessary, because it affects so few businesses. Councilwoman Genesis Milam agreed, adding, “It’s a law just for the sake of having a law.”
De Weerd said she would need to review whether the city’s legal team had time to craft an ordinance, given competing priorities.
Cavener said he sent City Attorney William Nary documents last week to help Nary start drafting an ordinance.
“I would hope that the majority of our council sees this as important for our community in driving down instances of cancer,” Cavener said.