Tobacco bill makes progress

The bill that would ban smoking in the workplace is making progress in the Alaska Senate.


SB 1, or the “Take it Outside Act”, sponsored by Sen. Peter Micchiche, R-Soldotna, has passed the Senate Finance Committee, and is headed to the floor for a vote. If passed this session, smoking and the use of e-cigarettes would be illegal in all public areas and any establishment with hired employees.

“The bill is strong and will provide protections to employees in many areas of the state currently not protected by such a law,” said Emily Nenon, Alaska government relations director for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network.

Once passed in the senate, the bill will move to the House, Nenon said. However, HB 328, sponsored by Rep. Dave Talerico, R-Healy, “Take it Outside’s” companion legislation is sitting in the House, not yet having started the committee process, she said.

If it is eventually signed by Gov. Bill Walker the bill will become effective Oct. 1, she said.

The Cancer Action Network is one of many collaborating organizations, including the Alaska’s chapter of the American Lung Association, the American Heart Association, the Alaska Native Health Board, among others, Nenon said. The groups have collected nearly 1,000 resolutions from businesses and organizations supporting the legislation throughout the state, she said.

Kenai Mayor Pat Porter is one of the Cancer Action Network’s local advocates. She said most of the area’s business owners want to go smoke-free.

“The only feedback that I have gotten over all these years is that the majority of them would love to do that, they just want to be on a level playing field,” Porter said.

Those that do allow smoking in their establishment are worried they will lose business, that patrons will take their business out of town, Porter said. From what she has heard, those that have already chosen not to allow smoking in recent years have actually seen an increase in customers, she said.

Polling data collected by the Cancer Action network shows 88 percent of Alaskans want all workers protected, said Noe Baker, senior specialist of media advocacy for the cancer network. Nearly 70 percent prefer laws that prohibits smoking in public buildings, offices, bars and restaurants, she said.

“Given Alaska’s fiscal crisis, this bill will save the state money,” Baker said. “Right now, Alaska spends $438 million annually in health care costs associated with tobacco-related illnesses. Making all of Alaska businesses completely smoke-free will help save the state almost $5 million in cancer, heart disease and heart attack costs within five years.”

Porter said her husband and his sister both have asthma, having been exposed to second-hand smoke as adolescents. She said many young people take what jobs they can get because they need the money, not thinking 30 years down the road that regularly inhaling tobacco products in their work environment may have serious repercussions.

If passed, businesses would be required to post no-smoking signs, and remove ash trays from inside the establishment, Nenon said.

“Laws like this are largely self-enforcing,” Nenon said. “The formal enforcement of this law will be through a complaint-driven process. If a complaint is filed with the state about a violation of the law, the state will first reach out to the business with education about the law, and notify a local community tobacco prevention partner to help provide education if necessary.”

The Alaska Control Alliance and the state Tobacco Prevention Control Program have already been carrying out that education process, she said.

Nenon said municipalities that have already passed local no-smoking laws have proven eduction is “typically all that is needed.” Anchorage has had a comprehensive smoke-free law in place for nearly nine years and the health department has never issued a citation, she said.

“If a citation were necessary at any point, there is a fine structure for the business owner laid out in the bill,” Nenon said.


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