RIDGELAND - Mayor Gene McGee hopes the city's new ban on smoking in public places, unanimously adopted on Tuesday evening, will start a new and healthier trend in the community.

"I think that the board has adopted a very progressive ordinance," he said after the public hearing and subsequent vote on the smoking ban.

Explaining his vote, Ward 2 Alderman Robert Gautier said in polls and conversations, it became clear that public health was the top priority for the city.

"It's just been the overwhelming will of the people," he explained.

Others, however, said that it represented an unfair restraint on both local businesses and smokers.

"I think this went a little too far," said Dr. Tom Logue, a Ridgeland resident and Madison County's veteran services officer.

The ordinance, which goes into effect 30 days from the date of its adoption, will prohibit smoking in all public places within city limits. Private residences are not covered by the ordinance.

Smoking will be prohibited in restaurants, bars, health care facilities, professional offices, and restrooms, in addition to all city government offices.

Restaurants will be allowed to have 50 percent of its outdoor dining areas as designated smoking areas, provided that they are not part of the public ingress and egress into the building.

Public facilities will also be allowed to escape penalties if they make "good faith" efforts to enforce the ordinance by making it clear to patrons and employees and involving law enforcement when necessary.

Along with private homes and apartments, 20 percent of hotel and motel rooms and certain outdoor areas of employment will also be unaffected by the smoking ban.

A maximum $100 fine is the penalty for a business violating the ordinance for the first time. Three or more violations within one year of each other will call for a maximum $500 fine for each infraction.

Violations could result in suspension or revocation of any permit or license issued to the person for that business.

The public hearing drew a large crowd on Tuesday evening that spilled out of the board room into the hallway.

Seventeen people signed up to address the board both in favor or against the comprehensive smoking ban. They ranged from private citizens to members of the American Cancer Society, local restaurant owners, and state Rep. Rita Martinson (R-Madison).

The public hearing began with expert testimony from Dr. Ralph B. Vance, a professor at the University of Mississippi with 29 years experience in hematology and oncology.

In support of Ridgeland's ordinance, Vance noted that there was no "risk-free exposure" to secondhand smoke.

"If you're exposed to someone else smoking, you're more likely to be exposed to carcinogenic agents," said Vance, citing the higher rates of tar and carbon monoxide in "side smoke" than in smoke inhaled directly into the lungs from cigarettes.

Fans and other forms of ventilation, he said, were not enough to solve the problem.

"You don't have the right to smoke in my presence," said Vance in conclusion.

Public comments followed Vance's testimony, and showed that while some private citizens and local health organizations supported the smoking ban, several local bars and restaurants expressed their concern and asked for more time to make compromises.

Elizabeth Barber of the Ridgeland Community Awareness Committee said that it was her "dream" to see the city smoke-free, and that she was not along in this feeling.

"There is very strong support across the board in our community (for the ordinance)," Barber told the board.

Ridgeland resident Spencer Copeland noted that several of his friends were choosing to eat at restaurants in Madison "because most of the restaurants there are smoke-free."

Diane Anderson said that the supposed right for people to smoke in public places was ultimately untenable.

"No smoker is going to be denied the right to smoke, only the right to smoke where it harms other people," she argued.

Kimberly Hughes of the American Cancer Society noted that not only would the ban help business patrons, "It is also protection for the workers there."

But several business owners spoke out against the ordinance, saying it could drive business into Jackson and other areas.

Mike Ward of Shucker's restaurant and bar said that while he would be willing to accept certain smoking restrictions, such as air purifying equipment and designated smoking zones, a complete indoor ban would have a "devastating economic impact" by driving away the 90 percent of his late-night customers who smoke.

"Patrons will simply cross County Line Road," said Ward, who represented over a dozen restaurants and bars in Ridgeland.

Curtis Haley of the Cock of the Walk restaurant called the ordinance "intrusive" and accused the board of hypocrisy with respect to tobacco products.

"You can't embrace the taxes they bring in and then condemn the people who use that product," he said.

Logue used a non-economic argument by arguing that the ordinance violated "my rights to assembly with like-minded people."

Martinson acknowledged both sides of the issue.

She said that while she was generally against heavy government involvement in private enterprise, she said that that Ridgeland was dealing with a "very important health issue."

Referring to her own son whom she said smokes in front of her grandchildren, Martinson said, "It just kills me."

Discussion followed that resulted in a change to a section of the ordinance that prohibited smoking in outdoor serving and seating areas of restaurants and within 20 feet of those areas.

The board agreed that allowing 50 percent of the restaurant's outdoor areas to be designated for smoking was acceptable, since the detrimental health effects of secondhand smoke would be reduced.

Vance acknowledged that his data on secondhand smoke did not deal with the outdoors.

After the meeting, officials said that they believed that far from hurting local businesses, it would actually encourage new customers at restaurants that banned smoking.

These new patrons could include families with small children, as well as adult non-smokers.

"This type of ordinance is good for business, not bad for business," said Gautier.

Community Development Director Alan Hart agreed, calling the smoking ban the "start of a movement in the metro area."