New Tennessee law could allow counties to ban smoking inside all bars and restaurants

Smoking ban
Posted at 5:00 PM, Jun 02, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-02 20:25:38-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — For Music City musicians, the smoke may finally be clearing on a problem that's hung heavy for years.

"It’s particularly difficult for me as a musician because I battle asthma, and I’ve battled it since I was a kid. So playing in a smoke-filled bar has always been a nightmare for me," said Jamie Kent, a singer and songwriter.

Kent says some bars in Nashville are so bad, he's had to choose his health over a paycheck.

"I’ve lost my voice halfway through a show, had an asthma attack, I’ve got merchandise that now smells like cigarette smoke, and I’ve got to find a laundromat somewhere to wash it," he said.

If you're thinking to yourself, I thought Tennessee banned public smoking years ago — you'd be right. Sort of.

Back in 2007, then-Gov. Phil Bredesen signed the Tennessee Non-Smokers Protection Act — which banned smoking indoors at restaurants and bars but carved out a huge exception. Any venue that set an age restriction of 21 years or older could let the smoke continue to roll.

That's why, for the last two years, Jamie has traded the hot stage lights for Capitol Hill.

"My journey from an artist to a lobbyist over the last two years has been a wild one. I’ve learned the walking meeting you see in the West Wing, that’s a real thing," said Kent, who is also Chairman of Musicians for a Smoke-Free Tennessee.

Those meetings paid off. The new law, signed by Gov. Bill Lee this week, gives individual counties the ability to pass their own ordinances.

"And up until now, the preemption in the law prevented that," explained Kent.

Which means, Jamie's lobbying efforts will now shift to Nashville's Metro Council.

"I try not to put the cart before the horse, but I’m excited about the possibilities," said Kent.

He hopes, one day, the only thing that clouds the air is live, original music.

"We won't have to choose between our health and our well-being," he said.

An aide for Nashville Mayor John Cooper says he's currently looking into what a smoking ordinance would look like, along with officials from Metro Nashville Public Health. We're told Cooper is "generally supportive" of moving forward with no smoking in bars.