The Anniston City Council briefly discussed Monday loosening the city’s ban on smoking in public places and allowing certain tobacco-based businesses.
The two proposed ordinances, presented by Councilman David Reddick, would allow residents to smoke e-cigarettes in public places and permit the opening of hookah bars in the city. The proposals come about two years after the council passed its no-smoking ordinance and a month after it allowed cigar bars to operate in the city.
Reddick presented the ordinances during the council’s regular work session Monday. The council is set to vote on the ordinances at an upcoming meeting.
Reddick said he didn’t think removing the ban of using e-cigarettes, also referred to as vaping, from public areas would be much of an issue. He said they weren’t harmful like cigarettes and produced only water vapor.
Reddick said the council should allow hookah bars since they agreed to permit cigar bars in the city last month. Hookah bars allow patrons to smoke a substance called shisha, a syrupy tobacco substance, from communal pipes.
The council, with only Mayor Vaughn Stewart and Councilman Seyram Selase dissenting, voted to allow cigar bars after an Anniston resident presented a plan to open such a business.
“I think this is a good chance to give someone the same opportunity to open a business in the city,” Reddick said.
Anniston resident and business owner Courtney Munford, who attended the meeting, said she planned to open a hookah bar in the city if the ordinance is approved.
“If you’re going to do one then do the other,” Munford said of cigar bars and hookah bars. “What’s fair is fair.”
Selase said he couldn’t support Reddick’s proposals anymore than he could the cigar bars.
“We have to be careful at chipping away,” Selase said of the smoking ban.
Stewart said he was very much in favor of the no-smoking ordinance.
“I was not in favor of cigar bars and I’m not in favor of hookah bars and I couldn't vote for vapor either,” Stewart said.
Ginny Campbell, Alabama’s government relations director for the American Cancer Society, said during a Monday phone interview that her organization strongly opposed any weakening of the city's no-smoking ordinance, which generally forbids smoking in businesses open to the public. It is allowable in places that meet strict ventilation guidelines to remove smoke from the air.
“Anniston has one of the stronger, effective smoke-free ordinances in the state,” Campbell said. “For them to change, I think it would be a setback.”
Campbell said there isn’t much hard science to show if e-cigarettes are safe.
“Better to err on the side of caution,” Campbell said. “Some of the chemicals in vaping are some of the same ones in cigarettes.”
Also during the meeting, Sonny McMahand, executive director of the Anniston Housing Authority, told the council his agency planned to soon apply for a $2 million federal grant to help with the demolition of Cooper Homes. The authority plans to demolish the aging Cooper Homes next year, then replace it with modern residences a year later.
McMahand said he’d need the city’s support and $250,000 in matching money if the grant is approved. If the grant is approved, the authority would be placed on the list for a larger, $20 million grant to help it fully implement its Cooper replacement plan.
City Manager Brian Johnson said the city would pay for the match with federal Community Development Block Grant money over two years. The city receives CDBG grant money each year to pay for housing projects.
“I think it's a good idea, leveraging CDBG money for the biggest return in investment,” Councilman Jay Jenkins said. “This is our biggest chance to impact west Anniston in the last 20 to 30 years.”