Portales restaurants trending smoke-free

By Michael Harrell: PNT Staff Writer

Restaurant smoking sections are diminishing throughout the country. Although neither the state nor Portales has any ban disallowing smoking yet, some local restaurant owners are getting a head start on the trend.

In May the Wagon Wheel restaurant let customers take a poll on whether to keep or ban smoking inside the restaurant. Votes came back in the ban’s favor. Now, nearly two months after its withdrawal, the restaurant’s owners are realizing its effects.

“It’s a much cleaner environment,” said the restaurant’s general manager, Justin Massey. “There are a lot of new customers.”
He said, however, that a few loyal customers they had before have stopped coming.

“It’s a health issue. We are not picking on the smoker,” said Wagon Wheel owner Vinnie Banda.

Banda said smoking sections in restaurants are diminishing in the state as well as the nation. Santa Fe, Albuquerque, Roswell, Las Cruces and Carlsbad have all applied ordinances that disallow smoking inside a restaurant, although some allow it in a separately enclosed area or outside the building, according to Deborah Busemyer, a spokesperson for the New Mexico Department of Health.

Rep. Keith Gardner, R-Roswell said bills for a state-wide ban come up often in the legislative sessions. In the past he said he voted against it, but is now re-thinking his position.

“For me its been difficult. We know there are negative effects.” he said. “It is an issue where if you choose to ingest it then I have to. It’s taking the right away from people who choose not to smoke.”

So far there are about eight states who have a 100 percent ban on smoking in restaurants, according to Banda.

“The difference is night and day,” said Don Elder, who frequents Wagon Wheel to host the Coaches Show on KSMX. “There seems to be more people and you have a better sense of taste without the smoke around.”
Karon Siewert, the owner of Mark’s Restaurant and Catering, said they went non-smoking about six years ago. She said the change hurt them initially, but in the long run the business came back stronger.

“Mark’s set an example,” said Banda. “It was a tough decision but people still come back in.”

She said in the end its the food people come to restaurants for, not for a place to smoke.