Study says Anchorage smoking ban working better than expected

Posted: Wednesday, January 02, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Anchorage's tough smoking law, in effect for one year, is working better than expected and has not hurt local businesses, according to a new report.

''I think it's been pretty effective,'' said Chris Tofteberg, the supervisor in charge of enforcing the law, which bans smoking in most enclosed public places. ''We get all the complaints that come in. There's pretty much total compliance.''

A one-year report required by the law and produced by the Institute for Circumpolar Health Studies says the feared loss of business predicted by people who opposed the ban a year ago hasn't happened.

''There was no detectable impact on total employment in the Anchorage hospitality industry as a whole after the smoking ban took effect,'' the study said. Researchers say that, since the ban, more than 7,500 employees in 437 local restaurants no longer breathe secondhand smoke as a condition of their employment.

Not everybody is happy about the Anchorage law.

The Son of River City pool hall on Fireweed Lane has been destroyed by the ban, said owner Kent Andersson.

''I just find it impossible to comprehend why they would do this,'' Andersson said. ''My business is cut in half. Literally in half.''

The Anchorage Assembly exempted bingo parlors, pull tab outlets and bars but not pool halls.

Hot Shots, a pool hall that had been in the Dimond Center mall, had to move because its patrons couldn't step ''outside'' to grab a cigarette.

Now renamed Run-A-Rack and relocated to Muldoon Road, the pool hall has a no-smoking area open to the public and a four-table private room where smoking is allowed. But it cost owner Jim Foss a lot of money, and although business is climbing steadily, it's not back to where it used to be, he said.

''I don't think they should have told a business that you do not have the freedom of choice,'' Foss said. Like other opponents, he thinks businesses should be able to declare themselves smoking or nonsmoking and post that information at the entrance so customers can make a choice.

The findings of the report infuriate Don Skewis, chairman of the Cabaret, Hotel, Restaurant and Retailers Association of Alaska. Many restaurant employees who are being saved from secondhand smoke are taking 15-minute breaks so they can stand out in the cold and suck in firsthand smoke, said Skewis, a nonsmoker and owner of the Crossroads Bar.

''The law is a farce,'' Skewis said. Bars will be the next target of anti-smoking forces, he predicted.

But Assembly Chairman Dick Traini said it is unlikely the ban will be revised in the near future. ''I think people are quite happy about the way it's turned out and really don't want to mess with it,'' he said. ''There is nothing on the horizon to indicate there's any will to change things.''

Juneau enacted a law very similar to Anchorage's in October, and it went into effect at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday. It exempts bars but not bingo halls. ''

If the public is invited, it has to be completely nonsmoking,'' said Juneau city attorney John Corso.

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