Chuck Williams

Chuck Williams: Downtown column proves where there's smoke there's fire


Want to start a fire, just write a newspaper column that proposes the city consider a smoking ban along the downtown Columbus sidewalks.

Those sidewalks, especially along Broadway, have become extensions of the restaurants, coffee shops and bars. They have also become the place smokers can congregate.

The column last week did exactly what I hoped it would do — start a conversation. There are strong feelings on both sides and anyone who did not expect that is living life in a fog much like the one that exists in front of some downtown establishments.

The column sparked some well-thought-out responses from those who are my Facebook friends. And they were not on the same page.

This from Paul Pierce, producing artistic director at the Springer Opera House.

“… I think you’ve touched on something that will probably get more attention as time goes on,” Pierce posted. “Now that Uptown has emerged as an outdoor-adventure-health-and-fitness destination, it’s only a matter of time before Uptown’s customers realize that the smoke and drunkenness doesn’t synch up with their lifestyle and will flee the scene. And that’s the free market!”

That is not how I was thinking about it, but Paul’s point is well made.

So is this one from Les Talley, a retired battalion chief at the Columbus Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department.

“Wow Chuck. I don’t smoke, I don’t chew, or hang out with girls that do,” Talley wrote. “But the sidewalks belong to the good and the not so good. So if something else comes along that offends you, what do we do? Just take a minute and think about what you’re saying.”

I did think about what I was writing, Les, because I knew it would spark intense reaction on both sides. And it did.

Maybe the city should consider banning smoking from the outdoor eating areas attached to the restaurants. Or maybe the city should consider smoking areas that are away from the crowds. That would protect those who go to the downtown outdoor concerts and don’t want to be subjected to second-hand smoke.

I get it. Smoking is a legal activity, just like consuming alcohol. It can be perceived as hypocritical to seek the regulation of one and not have an issue with the other.

That said, my favorite comment comes from my friend, Jack Basset, a retired advertising executive who is now a frequent Facebook poster.

“If Chuck’s plan to restrict smoking does not become law, maybe the council should banish Chuck Williams from downtown,” Basset wrote.

You know, Jack, there are some folks who would probably agree with you. And, as your old buddy Councilor Red McDaniel used to say, with six votes of council you can do anything.

And I bet you could get six votes on this council to ban me.

Just saying.

Contact Chuck Williams, senior reporter, at