By David Howell
WATER VALLEY – Supervisors voted 4-1 to adopt a smoke-free ordinance in Yalobusha County during Monday’s meeting. The ordinance prohibits smoking in all places of public accommodation and will take effect July 5. The action follows discussion last month alerting residents in the county that the matter would be voted on in Monday’s meeting following public input.
District 5 Supervisor Gaylon Gray cast the sole dissenting vote that followed input from representatives from VFW Post 4100 in Water Valley and Tillatoba Truck Stop owner Tommy Griffis.
The ordinance prohibits smoking in all areas available to and customarily used by the general public. It also identifies specific areas including restaurants, retail stores, bars, bingo facilities, childcare and adult day care facilities, convention facilities, health care facilities and others. The ordinance also restricts smoking outdoors within a reasonable distance of 20 feet of a primary entrance of a business.
The complete ordinance is published on pages 12 and 13.
Speaking during the May meeting when the ordinance was first introduced, Board Attorney John Crow said the ordinance is countywide and includes the towns of Water Valley and Coffeeville unless city officials choose to opt out. The ordinance does not include the Town of Oakland after city officials adopted a similar ordinance back in February.
Opposition To The Ordinance
Mickell Dunn was the primary spokesperson for the VFW, first explaining the organization is a private club.
“We do a lot of things out there for the community,” explained Dunn. He cited community support in recent years that has flowed from the VFW and American Legion including donating money to help purchase bullet proof vests, extrication equipment and an ambulance for first responders in the county as well as scholarships for graduates..
“Where did that money come from? That money came directly from bingo,” Dunn continued, adding that the ordinance will ultimately shut down the club’s Friday night bingo, their only source of income. Sharing statistics taken from a survey during last Friday’s bingo games, Dunn said 85 percent of the players reported they smoke while playing. In a second poll, Dunn added 90 percent of the smokers playing bingo indicated they would not return for bingo if smoking is banned.
“Bingo only works when you have a large number playing,” Dunn continued, adding that the club only makes a small profit on bingo tickets and the remaining players would not be enough.
“This smoking ban directly affects the VFW, the VFW members and this community as a whole,” Dunn explained.
Another VFW member, James Gordon, also voiced opposition to the ordinance.
“Personally there is nobody in here that hates smoking more than I do, my wife died from COPD,” Gordon said in introductory remarks. But he explained there are four smoke eaters utilized at the post to help keep smoke to a minimum and the ordinance would hurt the post.
“Every man that is a true VFW member saw combat time,” Gordon added about the group. “ We got sprayed with Agent Orange, shot at, kicked at, talked about, and had our hind end kicked at when we got back home. I have passed that 80-mark, I never thought I would get to be 25 when I was fighting in Korea at 17 years-old.”
Gordon also explained that there has been a lot of hard work to keep the VFW post going.
“We think a lot of it. I would love to see us be able to continue with it,” he added.
In closing Gordon expressed gratitude for citizens and elected officials attending the Memorial Day service held at the post.
“The Memorial Day Service, Veteran’s Day Service and Easter egg hunt we have for children, the meals that we provide, they are also paid for by bingo,” Dunn added following Gordon’s comments.
“If we can’t play bingo, we are going to have to shut the doors,” he added.
Board President Cayce Washington responded to the comments, first reiterating comments from last month’s meeting that the purpose of ordinance is to eliminate exposure to second hand smoke in public places. Last month Washington cited an example of a small child accompanying a parent into a store and being exposed to second-hand smoke.
“The effects of second-hand smoke are horrendous,” Washington said.
Washington also responded to the veterans’ concerns.
“We appreciate the veterans, knowing that I can never repay a vet for the hard work and the lives that were lost to give us the freedom to sit here in a free country today,” Washington said. “And I have trouble with the decision that is before us, with the VFW saying this is going to affect them.”
But Washington pointed to the community support the VFW has provided to first responders to help save lives.
“You mentioned about saving lives, I think this smoking ban will help save lives because of second-hand smoke,” he explained.
Washington also said he had talked to a number of veterans, and some were for the ordinance and while others were not.
Another opponent, Darrell Coleman, told supervisors he was opposed to the ordinance, questioning the authority of the board to tell business owners what they can and can’t do.
“If y’all pass this, what is to say, on down the road you tell us we can’t smoke on our private property?” Coleman asked.
Coleman also pointed to his hat with a Rebel flag on it, asking if supervisors would ban it if some folks found it offensive, like others find cigarette smoke offensive.
“That is a personal freedom of expression protected by the first amendment,” Washington answered, referring to the hat. “The second hand smoke breathes directly on to somebody, that is a little different.”
“You are telling business owners what they can and cannot do… that is not right,” Coleman continued, adding that customers who don’t like smoke can go somewhere else.
“I appreciate those remarks. Unfortunately we live by laws within the land and we are tasked at doing some things at the local level. I don’t agree with everything that is before us sometimes, but it is for the betterment of the entire group and not just a select group,” Washington explained.
Griffis was the last opponent to speak, noting that a lot of his customers smoke and the ordinance will hurt his business.