For now, Wichita will remain an island that is not subject to the new statewide indoor smoking ban. After hearing arguments in court Thursday, Sedgwick County District Judge Jeff Goering ruled that a temporary order — keeping the ban on hold in Wichita — will remain in effect until he issues his ruling. That will probably take a couple weeks, Goering said.
He complimented lawyers on both sides for a "well-argued case."
Sedgwick County District Judge Eric Yost issued the temporary restraining order June 18. It was sought by three Wichita businesses — Mort's Cigar Bar, Walt's Sports Bar, and Heat Cigar Bar & Hookah Lounge. The statewide ban would have gone into effect July 1.
Twelve other parties, mostly drinking establishments, have joined the three original plaintiffs.
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The statewide smoking ban prohibits indoor smoking in restaurants, bars, workplaces and other public areas. But it contains exemptions, including for tobacco shops and gambling floors of state-owned casinos.
Wichita lawyer Harry Najim, who represents the plaintiffs, argued that Wichita's smoking ordinance overall is more stringent and regulatory than the state's and that therefore it should be the controlling law in Wichita.
The Wichita ordinance allows smoking. But it sets out a number of restrictions, he said.
The city ordinance says businesses can allow smoking if they buy a special permit, improve ventilation systems and limit smoking-optional rooms to adults.
Najim contended that the statewide ban is not uniformly applied — violating the Kansas Constitution — because it has exemptions, including casinos.
He said people who don't want to be around smoke can avoid businesses that cater to smokers.
Tim Riemann, an assistant attorney general representing the state, contended that the reason the plaintiffs oppose the statewide ban is because it is so stringent — a ban on smoking in their businesses.
He said it was illogical for the plaintiffs to argue otherwise.
"The Wichita ordinance does not restrict smoking to any great extent," Riemann said.
He also countered Najim's argument that the law is inconsistently applied. Riemann said it applies to all cities the same way.
Some plaintiffs testified in court that their businesses would suffer hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages and that they could be forced to close under the state ban. They said they cater to customers who come to their establishments to smoke and not be "hassled" by people who oppose smoking.
They also argue that the state is being hypocritical in make an exception for state-owned casinos.
After the hearing, plaintiff Ali Issa, who operates Heat Cigar Bar & Hookah Lounge, said that the city ordinance adequately limits exposure to secondhand smoke and protects minors.
In a counterpoint, Diane Tinker, with the American Lung Association/Wichita, said, "This is a public health issue, not a business rights issue."