Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Assembly Votes To Make Anchorage A "Smoke-Free" City

By a vote of 8-3 on Tuesday, August 15, 2006, the Anchorage Assembly adopted the new harsher anti-smoking ordinance banning smoking in all indoor public places and some outdoor public venues. Full story on the KTUU Channel 2 website, and a related story from the Anchorage Daily News. Click here to view a copy of the ordinance.

The new law also prohibits smoking within five feet of an entrance to a bar. Smoking would be allowed in the outdoor area of a bar, such as a patio or a deck, as long as it's done at least five feet from the door. It bans smoking within 20 feet of city and school buildings and 50 feet of hospitals. It bans smoking within 20 feet of any place of employment, so smoke doesn't enter the building through a ventilation system or window. Smoking in private clubs is only OK if the club is not licensed to sell alcohol, is not open to the public and is not a place of employment.

The three negative votes were cast by Dan Sullivan, Debbie Ossiander, and Anna Fairclough. Sullivan and Ossiander traditionally vote against intrusive legislation. All 11 Assembly Members agreed that second-hand smoke has ill effects, but there was disagreement on how to implement the ordinance and, by implication, how far government should reach to keep its citizens safe.

Anna Fairclough pushed to make allowances for veterans clubs. "This is a very narrowly-tailored exemption to meet those people who have served on your behalf and my behalf to maintain America's freedoms," said Fairclough, who's also challenging fellow Republican Pete Kott for his state House seat in Eagle River.

In response, ordinance co-sponsor Dan Coffey cited the importance of keeping it simple and maintaining a level playing field by treating all businesses alike. "Private clubs, if they are allowed an exemption or if there are exemptions allowed for smoking rooms or all of these sorts of things will undermine the level playing field," stated Coffey. While Coffey acknowledged that some research showed that cities with smoking bans can lose business to adjacent cities which are more lenient, he suggested that Anchorage didn't fit the mold because of the Municiaplity's huge size. He questioned whether people would be willing to drive 40 miles to the Mat-Su Borough to a bar or bingo parlor just to be able to smoke while pursuing such entertainment.

Dan Sullivan, the Assembly Chairman, said that six years ago the panel decided to exempt from the no-smoking rules places where adults go, and adults should be able to make the decision. "Now we've decided that adults can't make their own choices," he said. There are also more places now where nonsmokers can find a job, he said.

As a registered respiratory therapist, Debbie Ossiander (pictured at left, courtesy of is quite familiar with the ill effects of smoking. However, Ossiander expressed concern that a broadened reach to include babysitters could make life unnecessarily difficult. "I can't take that child to my neighbor and have my neighbor babysit my child if there's somebody smoking in my neighbor's house," complained Ossiander.

However, the ordinance's other co-chair, Dick Traini, slapped that complaint down straightaway. "I'm opposed to any amendment that puts children at risk by exposing them to second-hand smoke," responded Traini.

However, to make the ordinance more palatable to the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce and affected business owners, the ordinance doesn't become effective until July 2007.

This was the third public hearing on the ordinance. On July 11th, not everyone who signed up to testify got an opportunity to do so, so a second round of public testimony was scheduled for July 25th. Since two-thirds of respondents opposed the ordinance, the Assembly deferred its own discussion and vote until August 15th.

Smoking has been against the law in most public buildings, such as restaurants, offices and government offices, in Anchorage since 2001. The new law, which Coffey and Dick Traini introduced in May, aimed to outlaw smoking in some of the only public places smokers have left, with the intention of eliminating unwanted exposure to secondhand smoke.

Those of you Republicans who complain about Democrats making government more intrusive, invasive, and oppressive might be interested to know that not only are the ordinance's two co-sponsors Republican, but that Republicans outnumber Democrats on the Anchorage Assembly 6-5. Republicans have been growing government just as fast as Democrats, albeit sometimes in different directions.

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1 comment:

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