With a smoking ban bill in both the Alaska Senate and House of Representatives, Lucky Raven Tobacco owner Patricia Patterson took a different approach to express her disagreement to lawmakers.
Her customers, many of whom utilize the shop as a place to smoke cigarettes, started talking about Senate Bill 209, which aims to prohibit smoking inside public places. Instead of testifying in the traditional way with complaints from a business owner, she decided to make a video directed to Sen. Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, the bill’s sponsor, to show who the proposed legislation would affect, she said.
The two-minute YouTube video titled, “Stop Alaskan Senate Bill 209 and we’ll be Happy,” shows customers dancing to the song “Happy” by Pharrell Williams. The video has messages like, “Banning smoking in tobacco shops is like walking into a bar to order a beer and not be allowed to drink it.”
SB209, along with companion bill House Bill 360, would prohibit smoking in most public places, except private clubs not permitted to serve alcohol, private residences, that are not child-care residences, and marine vessels when engaged in commercial or sport fishing. If passed, smoking would be banned within 50 feet of a health care facility, within 10 feet of a bar or restaurant or within 20 feet of an entrance.
Patterson said her intention was to make the video fun and entertaining, but at the same time get the message out, in her view, of the excessive regulation in the bill.
“In the classic Alaskan style of whining and nobody listening, we love to hate government,” she said. “I wanted to get his attention and have him realize people are watching him and have him see more people are affected than just the owner.”
Since the video was published on March 24, it has received 1,485 views and caught Micciche’s attention. Not only did he call to listen to her concerns, he revised the bill to make freestanding tobacco shops exempt.
Micciche said while the bill focused on protecting non-smokers it is important to listen to constituents when they have concerns and have respectful dialogue.
“The video is an example to respectfully present a case in a positive and entertaining manner,” Micciche said. “People hear messages in different ways and this was creative and extremely effective.”
SB209 is scheduled for a hearing in the State Affair Committee today at 9 a.m., while HB360 is currently in the Health and Social Services Committee. The legislative session is set to end on April 20 and either bill would need to pass both the House and Senate to become a law.
Micciche said while it is unlikely the bill will reach a vote before the session ends, it is good to start the discussion now, learn what people like and don’t like and can chat about what people support in the future.
“This is not a personal attack on smokers,” he said. “They retain the right to choose their individual path. What the bill accomplishes is a limit to the smokers’ ability to adversely affect the health of Alaska’s non-smoking employees.”
In Micciche’s sponsor statement, he said 400 Alaskan businesses and organizations from all over the state have signed on in support of a statewide smoke-free workplace law.
Patterson, who has owned Lucky Raven Tobacco since 2002, said when she moved into a new building a couple years ago she modeled her business following the laws from California, where despite having some of the most restrictive smoking laws in the country, smoking is allowed in tobacco shops.
Lucky Raven, located in Soldotna, helps support the state by paying tobacco taxes, she said. She considers her building a private establishment, with state law already restricting anyone under 18 in a tobacco shop.
“The bill doesn’t recognize who smokers are,” she said. “My customers are responsible, hard working Alaskans and have the right to come to a place to smoke responsibly away from their home and car to keep secondhand smoke from children.”
She said people like the mother of a 12-year old who comes in to have a cigarette away from her child and then continues on with her day, or the guy who caught a prized halibut and comes into buy a box of cigars to celebrate would be relegated to smoking outside.
According to the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services, in 2012, only 21 percent of Alaska adults smoked, down from 28 percent in 1996.
Jennifer Olendorff, project and grant coordinator for Peninsula Smoke-free Partnership, said 30 states have comprehensive smoke-free laws to protect people in the workplace. In Alaska, many workplaces are not protected by municipal ordinances, she said.
According to the American Non-smokers’s Rights Foundation, 14 municipalities in the state of Alaska have 100 percent smoke-free laws, including local laws in Anchorage, Juneau and Palmer.
Olendorff said studies have shown that the smoke-free policies around the country have not hurt businesses that promote a healthy environment and the long-term financial impacts were positive.
“It isn’t a new idea, we know the dangers of secondhand smoke,” she said. “Policymakers want to protect people in the workplace. We are not asking people to stop smoking, just take it outside.”
An estimated 120 Alaskans die each year from secondhand smoke and eight out of 10 in the state believe secondhand smoke is harmful and people should be protected, according to the partnership’s website.
Olendorff advocates and educates on the dangers of tobacco use and works with schools to promote healthy choices. The partnership also helps smokers who want to quit. As a former smoker herself, she said she understands how hard it is to quit because tobacco is highly addictive.
She said people who have quit smoking have embraced other healthy activities like running, swimming and making other positive healthy changes.
“We want to help people,” she said. “It is important to not vilify smokers. It is never about the smokers; I know how hard it is to quit.”
Patterson said the community has self-regulated itself by not smoking in bars and restaurants out of respect to others. She said she is fighting for her customers who want a responsible place to use tobacco.
“As Alaskans we should never let someone in Juneau regulate ourselves,” she said. “I see a lot of problems in our community that need to be addressed and self-regulation of tobacco is not one of them.”
Reach Dan Balmer at firstname.lastname@example.org.