CODY — It’s early evening at the Silver Dollar Bar in downtown Cody, where one thing is noticeably missing. It’s not the imported gin or spiced rum, but rather, the cigarette smoke.
Gail Nace, owner of the Silver Dollar Bar, has already made her establishment smoke-free before 9 p.m. She plans to ban indoor smoking completely once her patio opens for the summer.
While her move to ban smoking isn’t risk-free in a state strong on individual freedoms, Nace said the appreciation of her customers and employees has made it worthwhile.
“Just about every state in the country is nonsmoking,” Nace said last week. “Wyoming is definitely dragging its feet doing it. I wish they would do it — make it a city or state mandate — so I don’t have to do it myself.”
Nace, who has owned the Silver Dollar for eight years, said the lack of leadership on the issue from city and state officials puts business owners like her in a tight spot.
Wyoming is just one of 12 states in the country without an indoor smoking ban of some kind, and Cody has no ordinance of its own.
“If the state or even just the city would say ‘no smoking,’ then I wouldn’t be ticking anybody off,” Nace said. “I took the risk of annoying some of my regular customers, but I had to do it. Someone had to do it.”
Cody City Manager Jenni Rosencranse said council members have discussed a smoking ordinance in the past. The majority opinion was that it’s not the city’s place to tell businesses what they can and can’t do.
While the city has a responsibility to protect public health, Rosencranse said, doing so is generally viewed in a broader sense. Creating a smoking ban, even for public health reasons, she said, isn’t currently on the city’s radar.
“I don’t know that we have to regulate public health to the point of [a smoking ban],” Rosencranse said. “But public health is definitely one of our responsibilities.”
Annie Tegen, senior program manager for Americans for Non-Smokers Rights, based in Berkeley, Calif., said the business-rights argument is a tired one that hasn’t stood up in other states.
Public health and clean indoor air have a priority, she said, as demonstrated in the proliferation of indoor smoking bans in cities across the United States and beyond.
“When we hear the rights argument, it’s like saying restaurants don’t have to follow sanitation laws,” Tegen said. “If there was another toxin in the air, the restaurant would be shut down. We don’t feel second-hand smoke is any different than any other toxin.”
As of February, 38 states had enacted some kind of ban on smoking in public places, including Montana, Colorado, Utah, South Dakota and Nebraska. More than 3,270 municipalities have also enacted some form of local law restricting where smoking is permitted.
The Wyoming Legislature took up a statewide smoking ban in 2009. While the legislation cleared the House by two votes, it was denied a committee hearing in the Senate and ultimately died.
More recently, public health advocates also took a hit in Teton County, where a smoking ban was struck down by a district judge who claimed the health board exceeded its authority by enacting the ban.
“Wyoming is way behind, but the people are starting to stand up and ask their cities and legislators to protect their health,” Tegen said. “It will eventually happen in Wyoming just like other states. When enough local communities pass strong laws, the state will realize it has to follow suit.”
The cities of Burlington, Cheyenne, Evanston and Laramie have already banned smoking in bars and restaurants, while Rock Springs enacted a ban excluding some bars and restaurants.
With no such movement afoot in Park County or the city of Cody, Nace decided to take action herself, protecting both her workers and her customers from the dangers of second-hand smoke.
“In the summertime, people complain all the time because where they come from, there’s no smoking,” Nace said. “I wanted people to be able to come in here and have dinner and not have someone sitting behind them chain smoking.”
Nace said her decision has been a difficult one that might upset some customers. She said she respects the rights of smokers and will work to accommodate them by creating a smoker’s lounge on her patio.
During colder months, she said, it will be heated with lamps.
“I want to make the Silver Dollar as comfortable to all my customers as I can,” she said. “I had a lot of requests for this from a lot of my customers, and it was time to do something about it.”