Judge Strikes Down Smoking Ban Exemption For Churchill Downs

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - A state judge struck down an exemption to Louisville's smoking ban that allowed patrons to light up at Churchill Downs.

Jefferson Circuit Judge Denise Clayton said in a ruling issued Monday that there was no logical basis for the exemption. The decision means one Kentucky icon - tobacco - is no longer legal inside another - the historic race track that's home to the Kentucky Derby.

"While it is true that horse racing is an important industry in the state, so is the hospitality industry," Clayton wrote in the six-page decision. "To hold one out as important above the other, is simply not a rational basis for exemption."

Louisville's metro council passed the ban to keep smoking out of all public places except for Churchill Downs and any tobacco manufacturer that conducts research and development for tobacco products on site.

The council exempted facilities leased, owned or operated by the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority. A group of business owners, the Metro Louisville Hospitality Coalition, filed a lawsuit challenging Churchill Downs' exemption and asking that the ban be overturned as arbitrary and vague.

Clayton's ruling comes during Churchill Downs' fall meet. Julie Koenig-Loignon, a spokeswoman for Churchill Downs, said track officials had yet to review the decision.

"However, Churchill Downs will abide by whatever the courts' final ruling is on this matter," Koenig-Loignon said.

Jefferson County Attorney Irv Maze was reviewing the decision and had not decided whether to appeal.

"Once we meet with our clients, we'll have a direction," Maze said.

Mike Hatzell, the attorney for the businesses that sued, said the ruling validates their claim that the exemption - and possibly the entire ban - is unconstitutional. Hatzell hopes Louisville's metro council will reconsider the ban and, if it allows smoking at Churchill Downs, it will also allow smoking at some restaurants and bars.

"I think it is incumbent upon the metro council to decide how to handle this," Hatzell said.

Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson scheduled a press conference for 3 p.m. EDT to comment on the ruling.

The smoking ban replaced a less-stringent ordinance that allowed smoking in bars and restaurants that receive less than 75 percent of their revenue from the sale of food served inside the restaurant. The older law also allowed businesses with separately ventilated smoking rooms to continue allowing patrons to light up.

Louisville is among several Kentucky cities to ban smoking in a state that has led the nation in the production of burley tobacco, an ingredient in cigarettes.

Louisville once was a hub of the tobacco industry, but those days are long gone. Philip Morris USA closed a manufacturing plant here, and Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp. abandoned its Louisville headquarters after merging with R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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