NATCHEZ, Miss. (AP) — The air in a few Natchez watering holes is getting a bit fresher as several bars and restaurants are going smoke-free.
Bowie's Tavern is the latest to prohibit smoking inside their establishment, following the Castle Restaurant & Pub at Dunleith, which is operated by the same company and also went smoke-free last July.
Bowie's went smoke-free Friday, and Dunleith General Manager John Holyoak said it was an easy decision.
"It was very successful at the Pub," he said. "We're seeing a lot of people in the bar we hadn't seen in the past."
Smokers at the Pub can still use the pool area to smoke, and Bowie's front porch and back courtyard will be available for smokers, Holyoak said.
"We're setting up ashtrays on the tables on Broadway (Street), and putting plants and fans also in the back, trying to make it as comfortable as possible," he said.
Holyoak said a smoke-free Bowie's may be an inconvenience to young smokers, who make up a lot of his business on Friday and Saturday nights.
"That will be a bridge we cross when we get to it," he said.
The decision to go smoke-free at the Pub and Bowie's came at the request of patrons, Holyoak said.
"We also had a problem with the smoke in the Pub funneling up the staircase into the restaurant, and that was causing problems for us," he said.
The health of his employees was also a big factor, Holyoak said.
"You can't just think of your customers, you have to think about your managers and employees who don't smoke and are forced to work in that environment," he said. "All and all, I think it's a good step forward."
Fat Mama's Tamales, Corner Bar and Under-the-Hill Saloon are also taking that step forward.
Fat Mama's went smoke-free at the beginning of the year, and owner David Gammill said the comfort of his customers was the main reason he decided to ban smoking.
"Smoking in the restaurant is an inconvenience for non-smokers, and with the one big open room here, one person smoking can have a negative impact on the majority of people in here," Gammill said. "It's more of a matter of trying to maximize a customer's experience, and smoking in here could cause someone to have a negative experience and negative perception of Fat Mama's."
Gammill said he has not noticed an impact on his business.
"It's one of those things where I think it would be hard to quantify," he said. "We definitely haven't seen a negative impact on business."
Corner Bar owner Ronnie Cox is trying to minimize a negative impact on his bar going smoke-free by fixing up the outdoor foyer in the back of the bar for smokers. Cox said he decided to go smoke-free last year, but held off until he could ensure smoking patrons had somewhere they could smoke.
"The bar itself doesn't lend itself to a great exchange of air," Cox said. "I have three SmokeEaters and can open the doors at certain times of the year, but we get complaints. I, myself, am a non-smoker, it's something I detest and a habit I wish that I could rid myself of being around."
Cox said he has heard some negative and positive feedback from some of his regulars.
"One or two said they wouldn't come back, but I don't know if they meant that or just said spur of the moment," he said.
Cox said he also heard from a few people who live downtown and want to stop in at the Corner but want it to be a smoke-free environment.
It will take a couple of months, Cox said, to finish renovating the back foyer so the bar can go smoke-free. He said he plans to put stand-up tables in the foyer, as well as fans and other amenities to ensure smoking patrons are comfortable during hot and cold weather.
The switch to non-smoking establishments is inevitable, Cox said.
"We're moving in that direction, and I think it's going to happen on a state level," he said.
Under-the-Hill Saloon owner Andre Farish said he anticipates the saloon going smoke-free in a couple of weeks, once ensures the saloon's courtyard is ready for use by smokers.
"They'll have the courtyard and the front porch," he said. "It'll be an initial shock to people, but it's time. That's just the way it is; it's 2013."
Hattiesburg, Petal, Laurel, New Augusta, Starkville, Oxford, Jackson, Meridian, Madison and many other cities have passed a comprehensive smoke-free air ordinance.
Louisiana's Smoke-Free Air Act went into effect in 2007 and prohibits smoking in most public places and workplaces, including all restaurants with or without attached bars. Smoking is allowed in stand-alone bars and casinos.
The Palace Casino Resort in Biloxi is smoke-free.
Magnolia Bluffs Casino President Kevin Preston said a smoke-free ordinance in Natchez would hurt the casino's business.
"Smoking is typically one of the things gamers enjoy doing," Preston said. "It's something that goes hand-in-hand with casinos; it's part of the environment were in.
Preston said the casino made a significant investment in equipment that circulates air through the casino seven times an hour.
"What we typically do in the casinos we build is spend a lot more money on air handling units to make sure the non-smokers are comfortable," Preston said.
The City of Natchez previously considered a smoking ban ordinance but never passed one.
Mayor Butch Brown said the city is working to establish city property and city vehicles as smoke-free.
"I think it's a good and giant step forward," Brown said. "I think it's important to send a positive message about wellness to employees and that we're trying to be a clean environment. Second-hand smoke has proved to be a problem so much as firsthand smoke."
The city has not, under Brown's administration, considered a citywide smoke-free ordinance.
Mississippi Tobacco Free Coalition of Adams, Jefferson and Franklin Counties Director Paige Dickey said she certainly hopes Natchez heads in a smoke-free direction.
"The biggest problem here would be the casinos because many restaurants are already smoke-free," Dickey said.
The city, Dickey said, could pass a partial ordinance exempting the casinos from the smoking ban.
Information from: The Natchez Democrat, http://www.natchezdemocrat.com/