Ira "Doc" Lapides, owner of The Gatlin-Burlier tobacco shop, plans to fight for smokers' rights and educate his constituents about the realities of tobacco if he is elected to the Tennessee State Senate this November.
"I've been politically active ever since I've been in the business," said Lapides, who opened his tobacco shop in 1978. "If I'm not going to get any fair representation, I thought, I will run myself."
A native of Connecticut, Lapides wants to change the state smoking ban that prohibits smoking in public places, including restaurants and bars, so that entrepreneurs can decide for themselves if they want their establishments to be smoke free or not.
"I'd like to make a law that would grant smoking licenses to restaurants and bars," Lapides said. He believes that this would not only put control back into entrepreneurs' hands, but also provide additional revenue to the state.
He wants to see individual counties, or perhaps municipalities, legislate smoking bans rather than the state. He contends this would simplify the law so business owners could more easily adapt their business to comply. At the very least, he adds, business owners would have more of a chance having their voices heard on a county than state level.
Lapides is running as an independent against Doug Overbey, a Republican looking to make the move from state representative to Senator. So far, Lapides has run a fairly modest campaign, but he plans to step up his efforts.
Ideally, Lapides would like to set up a debate with Overbey, but that is proving difficult since Overbey seems to be avoiding the challenge. "I know if I can get in a debate with him, I'll have a great shot," said Lapides.