ASHLAND — Since a statewide indoor smoking ban went into effect Jan. 1, smokers downtown have taken to lighting up on Ashland's sidewalks, leaving behind cigarette butts and unhappy neighbors.

ASHLAND — Since a statewide indoor smoking ban went into effect Jan. 1, smokers downtown have taken to lighting up on Ashland's sidewalks, leaving behind cigarette butts and unhappy neighbors.

"Before it was just a minor eyesore, it wasn't a big deal — but thousands of cigarette butts do become a big deal," said Ron Roth, owner of the downtown restaurant Geppetto's.

Roth came to a Jan. 13 Planning Commission meeting with a grocery bag and large tin can full of cigarette butts that he had swept up since the ban went into effect. He says he wants the city to install ashtrays on every block downtown.

"We should have ashtrays and they should be supplied and maintained by the city," he said while sweeping up more cigarette butts recently. "These cigarette butts used to go in ashtrays in the bars."

Geppetto's is next to the Beau Club, an Ashland bar that used to allow smoking. Now, patrons stand outside the bar and smoke, Roth said.

The new law bans people from smoking outside within 10 feet from doors or windows, a regulation that many don't follow downtown because it usually means standing in the street, Roth said.

"Often times there will be a half-dozen people standing right out here just smoking cigarettes," he said, gesturing to the sidewalk in front of the bar and his restaurant.

City Administrator Martha Bennett said city officials planned to discuss the litter and ashtray issue at a future meeting, but she doubted the city would install ashtrays, because it could be seen as encouraging smoking downtown.

"I think they would get a very negative reaction to that, because it would be something the city does that encourages smoking," she said last week.

Bennett said business owners should instead take the matter into their own hands, by installing their own ashtrays, sweeping the sidewalks in front of their storefronts and telling their patrons not to litter.

"The issue of cigarette butts on the sidewalks has been with us for a long time," she said. "I think this issue just got worse but I don't think it's a new issue."

Business owners are allowed to install ashtrays on their private property, in alcoves and entryways, for example, but not on city-owned sidewalks, said Adam Hanks, permit center manager for the city.

"In a lot of those cases, probably, it's not going to be very logical to put the ashtray by the door because (smokers) can't be smoking there," Hanks said.

John Vroegindewey, a bartender at the Beau Club, said the increased litter didn't bother him or the owner of the bar, who did not return calls seeking comment for this story.

"My reaction is: I don't care," Vroegindewey said. "I used to throw them away in ashtrays but I'm not going to go outside and sweep up. It's not my job.

"Maybe the Legislature should have thought of that before they passed the ban," he said.

Ron Hansen, a co-owner of Gold & Gems Fine Jewelry, said smoke frequently drifts into his business because people who frequent one of the three bars near his store in the plaza now smoke outside on the sidewalk.

"The smoke comes into our business and that bothers me even more than the litter itself. I think there should be a ban on smoking on the sidewalk, period," Hansen said.

Smokers frequently don't stand at least 10 feet away from his door, he added.

"It's a law that's frequently broken," Hansen said. "It's a law that's hard to enforce and there are gray areas because people don't bring around yardsticks with them."

Neither Hansen nor Roth said the increased litter or secondhand smoke has caused them to lose business.

And in the meantime, both business owners are dealing with the litter issue themselves. Hansen or another store employee sweeps up cigarette butts in front of Gold & Gems daily, Hansen said.

Roth has put an empty ketchup can with a small hole on top outside Geppetto's to encourage people to use it as an ashtray, he said.

"I'm a nonsmoker, but if people want to smoke cigarettes, it's legal and that's their business," Roth said. "I can't do the whole street but I can do in front of Geppetto's."

Hannah Guzik is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. She can be reached at 482-3456 ext. 226, or hguzik@dailytidings.com.