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Kenai adds e-cigarettes to smoking ordinance

Posted: August 21, 2014 - 6:39pm

After hearing about the potential health concerns of electronic cigarettes at its preview two meetings, the Kenai City Council Wednesday night passed an ordinance for e-cigs to be regulated the same as smoking tobacco.

The council brought the ordinance back for reconsideration after it failed at the Aug. 6 city council meeting. The ordinance, proposed by Kenai Mayor Pat Porter, included the smoking of plant-based material to not be allowed in public, referring to marijuana.

Kenai Municipal Code prohibits smoking tobacco in a restaurant, bowling alley or medical facility. Adding e-cigs to the code does not ban use in bars, or private establishments.

On Aug. 6 after nearly an hour of discussion following testimony from eight members of the public, including Soldotna Mayor Dr. Nels Anderson and Dr. Jim Zirul, with council member Brian Gabriel absent, votes to postpone and pass the ordinance failed.

Vice Mayor Ryan Marquis said he didn’t dispute the health issues regarding e-cigs. The concern he had was government telling a business how they should regulate their shop. He was the lone no vote on the ordinance Wednesday.

“I believe it is the right of a local business to decide and let patrons decide if they want to allow (e-cigs),” he said. “That’s where democracy works best. This is an issue of freedom.”

Council member Bob Molloy said he talked to several restaurant owners who thought the ordinance would make it easier for them to tell people they can’t use vaporizers in a public place.

Marquis said the government shouldn’t be a scapegoat for businesses. He said owners should stand up and choose for themselves.

Council member Terry Bookey said he didn’t think the ordinance goes far enough.

“The air around us belongs to us collectively,” he said at the Aug. 6 meeting.

Council member Mike Boyle said the majority of the council wanted the e-cig ordinance to pass, but felt the addition of marijuana before the upcoming vote confused the issue.

Alaskans will have the opportunity to vote on Ballot Measure 2, an act to tax and regulate the production, sale and use of marijuana on Nov. 4.

“We don’t know how (Measure 2) vote will come out,” he said. “This is a good piece of legislation without having (plant-based material) to muddy the waters.”

Molloy said the ordinance didn’t have a clear definition of what plant-based material was. He said without an amendment, the ordinance could prohibit the burning of incense or sage.

The council made two amendments to the ordinance: To remove the reference of plant-based material and the mention of the upcoming vote of Ballot Measure 2, and to add language to clarify burning a combustible substance.

The ordinance defined smoking as “either the burning, inhaling or exhaling of a tobacco or carrying any lighted pipe, cigar, cigarette or other combustible substance in any manner or in any form or the use of any electronic cigarette.”

Marquis said the way the ordinance read, a lighted birthday candle would be banned.

Molloy moved to add “intended to be inhaled.” Marquis later thanked Molloy and said he legalized birthday candles.

The council spent about 30 minutes discussing an ordinance that would have given Kenai residents free services to the city-owned boat launch and parking before it voted to postpone to the next meeting.

Boyle, the sponsor of the ordinance, had brought a similar ordinance before council in previous years. He said the idea had a lot of support from local residents.

In a memo to council city attorney Scott Bloom said two former city attorneys Krista Stearns and Cary Graves both argued the legality of offering free service to residents but charging non-residents. Bloom said the use of a dedicated dipnet revenue fund for the city dock would make it more difficult to support free use of boat launch for Kenai citizens only because it is not paid through resident taxes.

Gabriel and council member Tim Navarre said they both liked the concept but couldn’t support it because the threat of a lawsuit.

Bloom offered a suggestion of a seasonal pass at a lower cost that would benefit local users or provide free parking service for residents, as long as it was paid through general funds.

The council postponed the ordinance to the Sept. 3 meeting after revisions could be made.

The city also approved a new sublease between the Peninsula Art Guild and the Kenai Potters Guild for the space in the Kenai Fine Arts Center.

In other business, the city passed five ordinances and four resolutions:

■ Providing committees act in an advisory capacity to council;

■ Amending personnel regulations;

■ Approving bona fide employer-sponsored medical leave sharing arrangement;

■ Increasing appropriations in airport equipment funds for the purchase of snow plow truck;

■ Authorizing purchase of airport snow removal equipment for $543,706;

■ Designating Wastewater Treatment Plant upgrades as No. 1 local state funding priority for fiscal year 2016;

■ Authorizing a budget transfer within general fund for the payment of back property taxes to the Kenai Peninsula Borough on land to be trained for a public purpose;

■ Declaring equipment surplus or obsolete to be sold.

Reach Dan Balmer at daniel.balmer@peninsulaclarion.com

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