Smoking Legislation Upsetting Restaurant Owners

As restaurant owner Monica Ballew plays outside with her great-grandson, she admits he's the reason she quit smoking a decade ago.

"I quit smoking in 1991," Ballew said. "I was a heavy smoker, but I just quit because I wanted to be around for my grandkids and my great-grandchild."

Monica owns two restaurants in Jackson County. One allows smoking inside; the other does not. She feels strongly about legislation banning smoking in restaurants.

"As far as the government passing legislation on it, I think the government ought to keep their nose out of it," Ballew said.

The American Cancer Society is one of the groups pushing for smoking legislation. In Jackson, legislators recently passed the Clean Indoor Air Ordinance. That ordinance did not ban smoking in restaurants. However coast owners say that's maybe how it should be.

"I think that's the way it should stay," Richard Chenoweth, a restaurant owner said. "We should be able to make the decision based on our customers demands and based on the configurations of our restaurants."

Richard Chenoweth wears two hats when it comes to whether or not ashtrays should be allowed in restaurants. He owns Scranton's Restaurant in Pascagoula, and he's also the President of the Gulf Coast Restaurant and Beverage Association.

"In fact we've taken a poll with the state restaurant association and most people don't want to be told whether they can have smoking banned or not," Chenoweth said.

For now, restaurant owners are allowed to decide whether smoking is allowed. And for most restaurant owners in South Mississippi, that's they way they want to keep it.

Smoking leglisation already exists in 26 states. Right now, Louisiana is trying to get a smoking ban for all restaurants, but a bill to ban smoking in Mississippi died in committee this legislative season.