Kenai snuffs out smoking ban: City council votes against introducing smoke-free ordinance

Posted: Friday, March 06, 2009

After hearing about three hours of testimony both for and against a proposed ban on smoking in all public places, Kenai lawmakers killed the ordinance Wednesday and quickly set a work session to consider expanding the city ban on smoking in restaurants.

Eleven people, including a number of tavern owners and managers, spoke out in opposition to Kenai's ordinance "to eliminate secondhand tobacco smoke exposure in places of employment and other public places."

Nine speakers in favor of the ordinance included representatives of the American Cancer Society, the Peninsula Smoke-free Partnership and Teens Against Tobacco Use, arguing that people have a right to breathe clean, smoke-free air.

Although the ordinance would have banned cigarette smoke in all work places and other public places, its sponsor, Councilman Hal Smalley said "it (was) not a smoking ban; it (was) a clean-air ordinance."

Nevertheless, on a 3 to 4 vote, the ordinance failed to get introduced.

Pamela Howard, who identified herself as a nurse, said she attended a clean-air institute last year and learned there has been a 33 percent increase in heart disease related to secondhand smoke.

"I'm surprised, as a city that encourages tourism, we haven't already received our 'smoke-free city' seal," she said.

Pat Hawkins, the commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars post in Soldotna, said people make a choice whether or not to come into the private club.

"We do not need government to come in and dictate to us what we can do," Hawkins said.

He expressed a fear that club-goers prohibited from smoking in Kenai or Soldotna would simply take their business to bars and clubs outside the city limits where smoking would not be banned.

Labeling the smoke-free proponents "goody two-shoes," Hawkins predicted they would not stop at trying to ban smoking in bars and in work places.

"They'll go after our parks, our homes," he said. "They will not go away."

Identifying himself as the president of the Kenai Peninsula Cabaret, Hotel, Restaurant and Retailers Association, Kenai Peninsula Borough Assemblyman Gary Superman told the council "the financial impacts of these types of ordinances is very real," adding that many cities across the country are overturning zero tolerance laws because of the impact they have had on business.

Addressing a number of points in the proposed ordinance referring to the goal of protecting the health of workers exposed to secondhand smoke, Superman called the claims "a hoax."

"This is not a worker safety issue," he said.

A member of TATU, Grace Olendorff, drew an analogy between the secondhand smoke ban and the government stepping in to curb drunk driving after Mothers Against Drunk Drivers insisted that too many people were killed in alcohol-related car crashes.

"Smoking kills 52,000 smokers a year," Olendorff said. "I would never expect government to allow businesses to do something that harms people."

Councilman Rick Ross asked if the ordinance should apply to a business not open to the public that only has two employees who both smoke.

After a moment's hesitation, she said, "Yes."

Emily Noonan, an American Cancer Society spokeswoman from Anchorage, said she was in Kenai in 2003 to assist the city with its smoke-free restaurant ordinance, and is willing to help once again with the new ordinance.

New information received in 2005 states that ventilation systems to remove smoke from inside buildings cannot remove secondhand smoke, she said.

Even without a smoking ban in place, Mike Henry, representing the 406 Sportsman's Lodge in Kenai, said business is down 25 percent since last year.

"If this ban goes in, I'll have to close," he said.

Jenny Olendorff, Peninsula Smoke-free Partnership project coordinator, said no one is suggesting a smoking ban.

"Just take it outside," she said.

Don Pearce, however, said when someone goes outside to smoke and leaves their drink on the bar, someone else might slip a date-rape drug into it.

In areas that enacted no-smoking laws, he said rapes and other sexual assaults are up 30 percent.

"You're infringing on my rights ... in fraternities and private clubs," Pearce said. "Be carefull. You'll end up in court."

Following the public testimony, several council members said they would be in favor of a work session to continue studying the smoke-free issue.

With the concurrence of council members, Mayor Pat Porter set the work session for 6 p.m. on May 28, allowing the council time to set the city's 2010 fiscal budget before resuming work on the smoke exposure topic.

"The work session is open to the public and the public may comment," Porter said.

Phil Hermanek can be reached at

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