Voters reinstated Casper's comprehensive smoking ban Tuesday in a special election, settling an issue that's been debated in the city for three years.
Nearly 54 percent of voters favored extending the city's smoking ban to bars, according to unofficial but complete election results. More than 6,200 people cast ballots in the election.
Kim Holloway, a former member of the Casper City Council, was confident that Casper residents wanted the ban, but said she wished supporters had won by a larger margin. Holloway was instrumental in bringing the issue to a public vote.
“I am thrilled that the voters had the opportunity to decide this, and I hope the council takes heed and takes note that this is what the people want and have wanted,” she said. “Sorry it took two years to get here, but we’re here. We’re going to be a healthier city for it.”
Jason Mincer, Wyoming government relations director for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, said he was pleased with the outcome of the vote, the end result of four years of work from local volunteers.
“(The action network) is excited for the city and residents of Casper for taking a step towards public health that will reduce cancer and other chronic diseases,” he said. “We knew the vote would be close, but certainly we are happy with the outcome.”
The vote disappointed many smokers, who argued business owners should decide whether to allow cigarettes in their establishments.
Kim Perry sat on her bar stool at TJ’s Bar and Grill at 9 p.m., an ashtray next to her drink, continually checking her phone.
Her gut feeling told her they’d lose. She had already heard rumors. Twenty minutes later, it was confirmed.
“We lost the vote,” she announced to the handful of people who remained. “We lost it.”
Perry comes to TJ’s to smoke. She doesn’t smoke in her home, and doesn’t enjoy smoking outside in the cold. The bar is where she mingles with friends, unwinds after a long day.
“I’ll go to a different bar (in Mills or Evansville),” Perry said. “If I want to sit at home and smoke, I will. Why come to a bar if I can just drink? What’s the point?”
Perry voted on Tuesday. She was a firm believer that it was a bar owner’s right to allow smoking.
Shawna Ritter, a bartender at TJ’s, thinks the election’s results will directly affect business.
“It’s going to change,” Ritter said, smoking a cigarette at 9:30 p.m. “Half our regulars smoke. Half our regulars don’t smoke, but their friends smoke.”
Long lines were reported on Tuesday at the city’s six polling places. There were extended waits at polling places in the last hour of voting.
At the Central Wyoming Fairgrounds, more than 20 people were in line at about 6:30 p.m.
“Long line, should’ve brought a cigarette,” one man was overheard saying.
High voter turnout early on Tuesday surprised Mayor Charlie Powell, who feared the special election wouldn’t draw enough people.
“It is clear that people are voting,” he said. “Whatever the outcome is, we can all say confidently, ‘This is what the city of Casper wants.’”
Organizations such as the American Cancer Society have spoken in favor of the ban. They and other groups maintain it will improve the city’s overall health.
Ban opponents say the right to decide whether smoking is allowed should have remained in the hands of business owners. They noted that some bars voluntarily banned smoking because that’s what their customers wanted, giving consumers a choice.
At TJ’s, Curt Lewis and Tom Tucker were in the corner near the entrance, smoking cigarettes after a day's work. Lewis voted on the smoking referendum. Tucker didn’t.
“This came up years ago,” said Tucker, 58. “(It was) voted, and now it keeps coming up. I guess I’m a little bored of it.”
Lewis, on the other hand, was excited to vote.
“If the people of Casper say ‘yay’ or ‘nay,’ then I’m good with it. I might not like it, or I might like it. But it’s no different than any other election,” Lewis, 59, said. “You might like your president, you might not. It’s no different.
Lewis and Tucker frequent TJ’s sometimes four nights a week. Lewis said he would visit less with a smoking ban.
“This is my local bar. But they’ll lose business from me,” he said. “Nobody wants to be standing outside when the frickin’ wind’s blowing, and it’s 10 below zero. So yeah, (instead of four nights at TJ’s), I’d probably go to Bayou (Liquors in Mills) two nights a week.”
The current smoking debate began in 2012, when the Casper City Council passed the first smoking ban ordinance. But in early 2013, a number of new members reignited the debate by passing an amendment that exempted bars from the ban.
The nonsmoking loyalists responded by circulating a petition to bring the issue to a public vote.
Though petitioners believed they had gathered enough signatures, then-City Clerk V. H. McDonald, now the city manager, disagreed. He said some of the petitioners didn’t qualify based on their addresses.
Holloway won a lawsuit against the city over McDonald’s choice to expunge 67 names from the petition. The city unsuccessfully appealed to the Wyoming Supreme Court, ultimately resulting in Tuesday’s special election.
The election, which cost the city $30,000, should be the final vote, officials on both sides of the aisle said.