February 7, 2016

Merchant troubled by smoking ban

Danedri Thompson

Employees at Wally’s Bar and Grill had an extra side job before the restaurant opened on Thursday morning. They pulled ashtrays from the tables and hung “No Smoking” signs on the door.

It wasn’t something Wally Borth, the restaurant’s owner, wanted to do, but he had no choice due to a Kansas law that went into effect July 1. Under the new law, smoking is prohibited in most commercial businesses.

Andrew Graham, Gardner, enjoys a cigarette Wednesday afternoon at Wally’s Bar and Grill. It was the last day smoking was allowed in most commercial businesses due to a statewide smoking ban that went into effect July 1. Staff photo by Danedri Thompson

“I think it’s an infringement on smoker’s rights,” said Borth, who does not smoke. “We spent money to build these establishments, and we’re the ones who should be able to pick and choose who we serve.”

When Borth opened Wally’s Bar and Grill more than 11 years ago, he spent additional money installing an air cleaning system designed to clean the smoky air and re-circulate cleaner air into the restaurant. As little as two years ago, he spent $1,600 upgrading the system.

That’s money now wasted, Borth explained. He also worries he’ll lose business thanks to the change in the law. The establishment typically experiences a mini-rush in the late afternoon.

Many are smokers looking for a quick drink after work.

Darrell Davenport, a regular Wally’s customer, smokes. He’s retired and typically stops by the bar in the late afternoon – sometimes staying for hours.

“It’s really not right,” Davenport said of the ban.

He drives from Olathe to visit with friends and staff at Wally’s.

“He picked this place,” Borth said. “Now he has to go someplace else.”

He’ll probably continue to stop in with the law change, Borth said, but he’s unlikely to stay for hours at a time.

Instead, Davenport said, he may go to the VFW.

Private clubs – like VFWs and American Legions – are exempt from the smoking ban as are state-run casinos (On Wednesday afternoon, a Shawnee County judge also temporarily exempted 31 Kansas businesses that received operating permits after Jan. 31, 2009 pending the conclusion of a lawsuit).
That’s unfair, Borth said.

“(Legislators) need to put everyone on the same playing field,” he said.

There’s also the issue of enforcement. The law allows for fines of up to $100 on first violation and up to $500 on a third offense. Both owners and smokers can be penalized under the law, but local law enforcement isn’t exactly certain how enforcement will work.

Deputy Tom Erickson, public information officer for the Johnson County Sheriff’s Department, said the department is still examining exactly how enforcement will work.

“To put it in pretty standard terms, we enforce the laws that are made,” he said. “I couldn’t tell you exactly how that’s going to operate.”

Ilena Spalding, Gardner Public Safety public information officer, said Gardner officers will not be issuing citations. They’ll respond to complaints from business owners and from customers and then forward reports to the district attorney’s office for possible prosecution. Spalding said bar and restaurant owners received instructions from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment about how to handle the new law.

Borth said the packet of information encouraged owners to have meetings to encourage employees to stop smoking.  The law also requires business owners to adopt a formal non-smoking policy. KDHE’s packet even included a sample policy for their consideration.

“Those employees who smoke and would like to take this opportunity to quit are invited to call the Kansas Tobacco Quitline for telephone cessation counseling and support,” a portion of the sample policy reads.

Borth said he doesn’t mind offering employees information about quitting smoking, but he concerned the new law will cost him as well as the government revenue. He said friends who own bars and restaurants in cities with smoking bans have told him the bans resulted in decreased liquor sales. That also means less liquor tax, which includes additional taxes that directly benefit parks.

“I think it’s going to cost the taxpayers money,” Borth said.

It’s also going to cost Borth money. He’ll be spending money to build an outdoor patio where people can smoke at his restaurant.

And then there’s his own restaurant’s bottom line.

“If we lose any of our beer business because of (the smoking ban), it could hurt,” Borth said. “It could cause us the possibility of closing our doors. That’s blood on the government’s hands.”


  1. Times are scary now, Wally and a lot of people are suffering terribly. I guess we need to look at this as a time of “opportunity” – that statement could perhaps rub Wally the wrong way but I hope not because that is not the intent. During hard times people have to re-invent themselves and be ready for new and different things.

    Look at how people have pulled themselves up by the boot straps since first setting foot on American soil. Those first immigrants died in big numbers getting a foothold.

    Get some special card games or dominos going certain nights or night of the week, Wally, with a special dinner available such as soup and sandwiches, chili, sloppy joes, etc. Your Blazer Night would be great. Simple food with a beer and lots of camraderie. You know as well as I do how important that customer service your staff gives can really help you have a successful business and drag the customers in. Give them free pie one evening. And then, of course, one of my favorites would be “Candidate Night” where the people could come listen and question one candidate a night, have a few beers so they could stand to listen to the bull hockey but, of course, the people would still need to be respectful. Give them some free popcorn and peanuts and make them buy the beer while they watch a special sports game.

    I smoked for 26 years and was up to 3 packs a day before I quit smoking 25 years ago. Good thing I quit when I did or I wouldn’t be here yakking. There is GOOD life after cigarettes and I hope all people find that out someday.

    Wally and his wife, Dawn, have helped many people through the years in this community so now is a time when citizens could help them by giving them business and also coming up with ideas that would bring the people in. Always an opportunity to help out your fellow man and this recession has brought many opportunities, that’s for sure.

  2. Garfield says:

    As long as Wally is paying tax and a mortgage payment (or lease), it’s wrong for the state to intrude on his property rights. He should be compensated for any ventilation system he was forced to put in. It’s not a smokers vs. nonsmoker fight, it’s a property rights issue. Next the state will be telling us what we can do in our homes.

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