Sunday, July 09, 2006

Anchorage Assembly To Hold Hearings Tuesday On New Harsher Anti-Smoking Ordinance

On Tuesday July 11th, 2006, at the regular Assembly meeting, the Anchorage Assembly will take public testimony on the proposed new anti-smoking ordinance, officially named The Secondhand Smoke Control Ordinance, designated AO2006-86. Click here to view the ordinance. Hearings on this ordinance are expected to start approximately 6 P.M. As is the custom, each member of the public gets three minutes to testify.

If you're opposed to the new anti-smoking ordinance, click here to go to the Stomp the Ban website to sign a petition urging your Assembly Member to vote against the ordinance.

Here's the meat of the ordinance. First, smoking will now be prohibited at the following places:

1). All enclosed public places within the Municipality of Anchorage.

2). All enclosed areas that are places of employment.

3). All enclosed areas on properties owned or controlled by the Municipality of Anchorage and the Anchorage School District.

4). All areas within 50 feet of each entrance to enclosed areas on properties owned or controlled by the Municipality of Anchorage and the Anchorage School District.

5). All areas within 50 feet of each entrance to a hospital or medical clinic.

6). All premises offering child care by person(s) other than the child's parent. [Ed. Note: I wonder if the private homes of a child's relatives or legal guardians are also exempt.]

7). Outdoor seating areas of arenas, stadiums, and amphitheaters.

Penalties: A $100 fine for the first violation, $200 for the second violation, and $500 for each subsequent violation. In addition, an aggrieved party may bring civil action against a violator in accordance with Anchorage Municipal Code (AMC) 1.45.010.B [Ed. Note: No accrual period is specified here, unlike the DMV Code, where points are zeroed out after 12 months.]

Prognosis: If the Assembly voted right now, the ordinance would pass 6-5. Dick Traini, Dan Coffey, Pamela Jennings, Ken Stout, Allan Tesche, and Janice Shamberg have publicly declared their intent to support the ordinance as it is presently written. The remaining five want to wait for the hearing. Anna Fairclough is leaning against it, Dan Sullivan believes the ordinance has problems, and Debbie Ossiander is just as concerned with individual freedom as she is with public health. Paul Bauer and Chris Birch are leaning towards it, but want modifications.

Argument In Favor Of The Ordinance: Click here for the full story from the Anchorage Daily News. Here are excerpts from Assembly Member Dan Coffey's argument supporting the new ordinance:

Before introducing this ordinance, I spent nearly a year researching the health issues and economic data related to secondhand smoke and smoking bans. I shared what I read with the trade associations representing some of the bars. I urged discussions between the bar owners and those supporting a ban on smoking. In short, I made every effort to understand the issues and to obtain information from those who might be affected.

As a result of my research, two things became apparent to me. First, it is clear that secondhand smoke is far more than an annoyance. Secondhand smoke is a significant public health issue. Over the past two decades, research has documented the harm caused by secondhand smoke. The recent Surgeon General's report states that nonsmokers exposed to secondhand smoke increase their risk of developing heart disease by 25 to 30 percent and lung cancer by 20 to 30 percent. The National Cancer Institute has identified secondhand smoke as a leading cause of death from heart disease and cancer. The Alaska Department of Health and Human Services reports more deaths caused by secondhand smoke than by motor vehicle accidents and homicide.

The second thing I learned is that the predictions of economic disaster are meritless. Other communities throughout the nation have taken action to protect nonsmokers from the harm caused by secondhand smoke. Hundreds of local governments, 14 states and nine Canadian provinces have adopted laws banning smoking in the workplace.

Based on these actions, there is now extensive data on the economic consequences of smoke-free laws. In a recent review of more than 90 studies of the economic consequences to businesses (bars and restaurants) when smoking is prohibited, the reviewers concluded that "all of the best-designed studies report no impact or a positive impact of smoke-free restaurant and bar laws on sales or employment."

This tells me is that scientifically sound analysis proves with substantial certainty that smoking bans do not have adverse economic consequences. That's why many business leaders support smoke-free laws.

Some folks say the proposed ordinance is an "assault on personal freedom." I disagree. I welcome the discussion about protecting freedoms. I don't question the right of smokers to damage their own health. However, they shouldn't be able to impact the health of others. The proposed ordinance won't eliminate smoking. The ordinance will only limit where smoking takes place so others are not harmed. A smoker's addiction is not more important than other people's health.

Everyone deserves the right to breathe air free of secondhand smoke, regardless of where they work. No one should be "barred" from a business because they don't want to breathe tobacco smoke. No one should be required to choose between their health and keeping their job just to make it more convenient for someone else to smoke.

A legitimate role of government is to ensure that the basic rights of individuals are not violated by others. The proposed ordinance protects everyone's fundamental right to breathe smoke-free air in public places and at work.

Argument Against The Ordinance: Click here for the full story from the Anchorage Daily News. Here are excerpts from Frank Dahl's column opposing the ordinance. Dahl is the chairman of the Anchorage Cabaret, Hotel, Restaurant, and Retailers Association (CHARR) and the owner of the Blues Central nightclub.

When this proposal became public, I was quickly reminded that when we were saddled with our present no-smoking law almost six years ago we were promised the law would not touch bars. Yes, that was a different mayor and different Assembly members, but wouldn't it be nice if city hall would keep its promises no matter who sits in the chairs.

Many who feel they can tell you how to live your life better than you would have you believe this is a health issue, and it is not. It is an individual and business rights issue, plain and simple. I personally do not like tobacco and may even agree that it should be outlawed. But, until that day, people should be allowed to enjoy a legal product.
They say it's about forcing people to endure secondhand smoke. Really? Then, answer me this. Why does this unenforceable plan exempt 25 percent of hotel rooms? Shouldn't we care about maids, room service and maintenance staff or other customers breathing in secondhand smoke? Or, is it more in consideration of a fear about losing big hotel support during a future campaign?

And, we should ask ourselves, is it better to allow a person to stop at a bar on the way home and enjoy a drink and cigarette with those around who engage in the same? Or would it be safer for that person to pick up a pack of smokes and bottle of whiskey to consume in the living room of their home with seniors and children present who have no option to go elsewhere?

And, at a time when we are legitimately concerned with assaults against women, ask yourself, is it better to allow the continuation of smokers in a controlled bar atmosphere, or for women to go outside to smoke a cigarette to be the target of the sexual predators and violence we hear so much about?

Proponents of this new ban claim there are no choices for nonsmokers. Not true. Right now there are over 200 establishments in town that serve alcohol but prohibit smoking. There are slightly more than 90 bars and private clubs that allow smoking. What is their true motive for trying to fix something that's not broken? We've heard no outcry from customers, employees or anyone else, except, that is, those who benefit by spending tobacco settlement money on TV ads.

We live in a free society and should be allowed to engage in free will. Independent responsibility and choosing should not be taken from us. We should not allow government to micromanage our lives. Most of us do not live in Alaska so we can be like New York or California, and few would be proud if we are labeled the nation's No. 1 nanny state.

Analysis: Frank Dahl's argument about choice wins the day. If non-smokers already have alternatives (twice as many as smokers), why can't they use them? Why must they force every business in the community to cater to their whims? After all, I thought it was de rigeur to celibrate "diversity". (LOL) What happens if someone goes to Home Depot and suddenly decides they want a Big Mac? Are we going to pass an ordinance forcing Home Depot to start selling Big Macs?

The free market was never allowed a fair opportunity to solve this problem. When the original anti-smoking ordinance was passed, approximately twenty percent of all Anchorage businesses, including every supermarket, were already smoke-free. The free market was already moving in this direction. Yet the Assembly chose to jump the gun and trump the free market. We were also assured there would be no further measures against smokers, just like Hitler assured the world in 1938 at Munich that the Sudetenland was absolutely, positively his last territorial demand in Europe. We all found out how well that worked, didn't we?

And with twice as many non-smoking as smoking establishments, employees who prefer a non-smoking environment can usually find one. The hospitality industry is constantly advertising for prospective employees.

The "social costs" argument has been demagogued to death. The anti-smoking lobby won't tell you that many smokers pay much of the "increased social costs" through higher premiums on life and health insurance. And why do we single out smokers for the "social costs" argument? What about the social costs of teenage girls becoming pregnant out of wedlock? Maybe I'm getting tired of single mothers sucking me dry of tax dollars through welfare, WIC, Denali Kid Care, and all these other programs. Or maybe I'm getting tired of the Anchorage School District constantly demanding more money for schools I don't use.

And Frank Dahl is right about one other thing; there was no general public outcry for this measure. The campaign was organized by a bunch of snobby elitists and some ditzy soccermons.

Dan Coffey's argument that a basic function of government is to ensure no one's rights are violated is of course axiomatic. However, I don't see where anyone's "rights" are violated, because not only are there are no formally-specified Constitutional rights at stake here (unless you can show me the specific clauses proclaiming either "the right to smoke" or "the right to breathe clean air"), but there are satisfactory alternatives available. Let the free market determine who does or doesn't go smoke free. Unfortunately the health nuts will probably win this round.

Unless...we smokers could change Janice Shamberg's mind if we promise to wear bicycle helmets while smoking. ;-D

Some other applicable websites:

Stomp the Ban: A local website allowing you to sign a petition to defeat the new anti-smoking ordinance.

Surgeon General's Report: The Health Consequences of Involuntary Exposure to Second-Hand Tobacco Smoke

Smoke-Free World: Presents a list of every state's smoking laws.

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