A few years ago, Joplin restaurant owner Mike Pawlus was on the fence.
“We wanted to go to no-smoking, but wanted the city to make the call,” said Pawlus, referring to an issue before the Joplin City Council in 2010.
The ban ultimately did not fly. Likewise, the Webb City council rejected a similar effort at about the same time, as did the Carthage council.
“We thought maybe it would surface again, but it didn’t,” Pawlus said. “We finally had to pull the trigger.”
Pawlus, who owns The Kitchen Pass restaurant and bar, went entirely smoke-free there on Feb. 1. Previously, patrons could smoke in the bar. Wilder’s Steak House, which Pawlus also owns, has been smoke-free for five years.
In February, Club 609 owner Linda Williams extended the daytime smoke-free hours through 10 p.m. On Monday, Joplin restaurant owner Steve Shaffer followed suit at Granny Shaffer’s Restaurant on West Seventh Street.
The moves came on the heels of the nation’s 32nd annual report on tobacco, released in January by acting Surgeon General Dr. Boris Lushniak. It links several major illnesses to smoking, including arthritis, diabetes and birth defects.
Pawlus said he believes there is growing momentum for a no-smoking movement to take hold in the area.
“We’re excited about it,” he said of The Kitchen Pass’ new status. “We tied it into a complete remodel. We noticed a few bar patrons who left, but they are beginning to filter back in. And we are seeing a lot of new faces come in who said they’d never been in because of the smoke. It’s always hard to change something after 28 years, but overall, I think it’s been very positive.
“It just feels better.”
Patron Danny Felker, who was eating lunch with his son, Andrew, said they are non-smokers, so the new ban didn’t affect them negatively. But the elder Felker noted that he does have a few friends who smoke with whom he can’t eat lunch there any longer.
Patron Lee Snider, who was eating lunch at the bar in The Kitchen Pass on Tuesday, said he was “100 percent for it.”
“I really like the transition,” he said. “It’s not that we don’t want smokers. We just don’t want them smoking while we’re eating.”
Steve Shaffer, whose parents opened the original Granny Shaffer’s Family Restaurant in 1985, said he’s had a favorable reaction since making his location on West Seventh smoke-free on Monday.
He’s been in business there since 2003 — a family friend owns the other two locations — and he contemplated making it smoke-free then.
“But at the time I thought the city or state might step up and deal with this like Kansas did,” he said.
The Kansas Indoor Clean Air Act went into effect on July 1, 2010. At the time, the Pittsburg (Kan.) City Commission had struggled with whether to adopt a local ordinance. Opponents worried about the potential for restaurants and bars to lose customers. In the past three years, two bars have opened in downtown Pittsburg, and none of the others have closed.
Shaffer said he was a recreational smoker when he was younger, but he hasn’t smoked since 1988. He said he believes the problem with having a smoking area in a restaurant is that “you can’t really keep it from drifting — you can’t really keep it separate.”
“Economically, it just keeps making more and more sense,” Shaffer said Tuesday. “More and more customers want smoke-free. I’m sure I’ll lose a few of my regulars, but on the second full day of this it seems a lot more positive than negative. I think my worries of losing customer base are probably not going to be founded.
“Smokers are just going outside, which I think a lot have started doing in their own homes.”
Shaffer said the ban also has had a positive impact on the wait staff.
“Two of them decided to quit smoking,” he said.
Shaffer’s wife, Renee, has hyperactive airway disease that is triggered by smoke, and smells of plastic, asphalt and other odors.
“She had to be careful if she wanted to come into the restaurant,” he said. “She uses an inhaler.”
Missouri has a national reputation for having the most freedom when it comes to tobacco use. Attempts in the Missouri General Assembly to pass some form of statewide smoking ban have failed every year since 2008.
In January 2011 and January 2013, the Missouri House voted to continue allowing smoking in its half of the Missouri Capitol.
Missouri also has the ninth highest smoking rate in the nation, according to the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, with 25 percent of adults and more than 18 percent of high school students who smoke. One of every six pregnant women smokes — a rate 64 percent higher than the national average.
According to statistics from the department, nearly 10,000 Missourians die every year of tobacco-related illnesses, including lung cancer, heart disease and stroke, and more than 1,100 additional deaths are caused each year by exposure to secondhand smoke.
Tobacco use also has economic costs, the department noted: About $2 billion is spent each year in Missouri to treat smoking-related illnesses.
But in recent years, Missouri also has begun earning a reputation for smoke-free air. In the past two years, voters or city councils have approved smoke-free measures in Columbia, Kansas City, Liberty, Kirkwood, St. Louis County, Ballwin, Springfield and Sedalia, among others.
In total, 36 Missouri cities have some form of smoke-free ordinance, ranging from 100 percent smoke-free non-hospitality workplaces to 100 percent smoke-free restaurants to 100 percent smoke-free free-standing bars.
Last month, a committee of residents in Mexico, Mo., began work in hopes of getting an ordinance adopted there. Work also is under way in St. Joseph, although that effort has met opposition from Stand Up St. Joe — a group of local bar, restaurant and other business owners against a ban. Voters there are to weigh in at the polls in April.
Kennett voters also will weigh in on a proposed citywide smoking ban on April 8 after the City Council there approved an ordinance calling for a special advisory election. It is designed to gauge the desire of voters on the issue.
“I just think it makes it much more of a family atmosphere,” Shaffer said. “I hope others in the area follow suit.”
SEVERAL STUDIES, including one from the Institute of Medicine, suggest a decline of between 14 and 17 percent in hospital admissions for heart attacks within the first year in communities that adopt ordinances on smoking.