Monday night, the Powell City Council will discuss the proposed smoking ban that was brought before it in June. The matter is listed as a discussion item on the agenda. The council meets at 7 p.m. in City Hall.
On Aug. 5, Mayor Don Hillman said the city would stick with an earlier plan to send letters to local businesses and/or residents to seek their input on the proposed ban. The council will decide what questions to ask, and who will get a copy of the letter.
Both pro- and anti-smoking ban groups have vowed to have people at the meeting.
The debate has spilled over into Facebook, where people on both sides of the issue have stated their views, often in typically bold online postings.
A Facebook group named “Powell Citizens for Business rights (and smokers rights too)” formed recently. James Kwisatz Haderach Ries, who has a letter in today’s paper, is a member of the online group.
“Coming into this debate I had nothing, I knew nothing other than smoking was bad, but obviously not to the degree that I do now,” Ries wrote in the letter, which is on Page 4. “With all the information I have now, I can say with certainty that this half-baked ban would do nothing but hurt our town.”
Members of the group have sparred online with Sharon Altermatt, the team leader for Prevention Management of Park County.
Altermatt came to the council in June to suggest imposing a smoking ban. Since that time, she has returned to council meetings, and she has spoken with the Powell Tribune for news stories and written a guest column for the paper on the issue.
Last week, Altermatt posted this on another Facebook page, Powell Forum:
“Hey all, just felt in a generous mood tonight and thought I should come out and thank all you smokers for smoking. Half my salary is paid by the tobacco industry as a result of the tobacco lawsuits of 1990 where they were court ordered to pay for tobacco prevention programs. So thanks for smoking!”
Ries then responded by posting this: “we aren’t as bad as you think! we keep you employed!”
“So true James,” Altermatt replied. “I don’t think you’re bad at all, just addicted like so many folks.”
The conversation continued, with the tone shifting from playful to critical. Kimberly Mitchell Angell said Altermatt’s words were the “Most pathetic comment I have ever seen on Facebook!”
Altermatt later deleted her remarks, but they were saved by members of the anti-smoking ban group and republished.
“I shouldn’t have engaged,” Altermatt said Wednesday. “That only added fuel to the fire. But I’m Irish and sometimes I get my dander up.”
The Powell Tribune’s Facebook page also became a place to discuss the issue. When a story on the Aug. 5 council meeting was posted, dozens of replies soon followed.
Stacey Van Deurzen Holzer, who opposes the ban, posted this comment: “Win win would be allowing the people who BUILT and OWN THEIR businesses decide! You would have some go both ways! Then everyone has an option! Who the hell are you to tell anyone what they can do on their property? Don’t like it then don’t go. Who are you to take away people’s right as Americans!!???”
A proponent of the ban, Shanee ‘Welch’ Parham, then posted this: “I’m a lifetime non smoker, I’ve also had cancer, It’s not fun!! I don’t think that there is anything wrong with asking someone to step outside to have a cigarette. I see it is a common courtesy not control.”
Altermatt said she will bring to Monday night’s meeting a doctor from the Big Horn Basin Cancer Center, a respiratory therapist, a non-smoker who would like to go to a bar that is smoke-free, and a smoker who prefers smoke-free bars.
Meldon McCullough, the owner of The Peaks Bar, is an avid opponent of the proposed ban. McCullough, who does not drink or smoke, said he doesn’t think the government should set rules for a privately owned business.
“Nobody’s more against smoking than I am,” he said. “But I am more opposed to people telling me what to do.”
McCullough said he will be at the council meeting, and so will a lot of people who agree with him.