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Court Blocks Ban on Public Smoking

A restaurant group sought the injunction in Kentucky, a major tobacco producer.

September 28, 2003|From Associated Press

LEXINGTON, Ky. — At the request of bar and restaurant owners, an appeals court has temporarily blocked an ordinance barring smoking in most public places in this city in the heart of tobacco country.

A three-judge state appeals panel said a judge considering a lawsuit filed by the business owners acknowledged the law could cause them "irreparable injury," yet refused to block it while he heard the case. The ban was set to take effect Monday.

The appeals court decided Friday "it is equitable and judicious to preserve the ... status quo" until the lawsuit is resolved.

After the decision, the local government in Lexington appealed to the state Supreme Court, which declined to intervene.

John Walters, the attorney for the Lexington-Fayette County Food and Beverage Assn., which sought the injunction, called both decisions victories for his organization.

Lexington Vice Mayor Mike Scanlon, a restaurateur and a supporter of the law, said Friday that the ruling is not necessarily bad news for the ban, which he believes will withstand court scrutiny.

"As much as there are going to be a lot of nonsmokers disappointed, this is democracy doing its job, and while it's inconvenient, the process is working," Scanlon said. "It's just a matter of time."

The ban was approved by the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council in July and is the first of its kind in Kentucky, the nation's second-largest tobacco producer after North Carolina. The food and beverage association filed a request for an emergency injunction Wednesday, but Circuit Judge Laurance VanMeter refused to block the new ban.

The association argues that state laws bar local governments from regulating public smoking, and that the ban infringes on the rights of business owners.

The smoking ban exempts private social functions, tobacco stores, indoor smoking areas in government buildings and facilities operated by private organizations.

On Oct. 6, the appeals panel is scheduled to consider extending its temporary order blocking the law until the lawsuit is resolved.

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