Starting in October, Kenai restaurant patrons will be able to enjoy the aroma of their food without it being overpowered by tobacco smoke, whether they would rather smoke or not.
At its Wednesday meeting, the Kenai City Council passed an ordinance that bans smoking in restaurants, effective Oct. 2.
The ordinance prohibits smoking in all eating establishments in the city. Smoking will still be allowed in bars and bar areas of restaurants as long as the bar section is enclosed and separately ventilated. Smoking also is allowed in eating establishments while they are used for private functions and in any patio area that is open to the sky.
Before passing the ordinance the council amended it to say that smoking is prohibited in eating establishments where serving food is the primary function of the establishment. This covers restaurants of all types and sizes but does not affect the bowling alley, bingo halls and other such establishments that have snack bars and serve food but do so only as a secondary function.
At its March 19 meeting, the council discussed whether it should include bingo halls and similar places in the ordinance. That conversation led to the council deciding to have an ordinance written up that would ban smoking in all public places and workplaces in Kenai, including bars as well as the bowling ally and bingo halls. That ordinance was promptly removed from the table at the Wednesday meeting without any discussion from the council. According to Kenai Mayor John Williams, that was done because the council wasn't going to consider it for a vote.
"All the council agreed to not get into that," he said. "It was a little bit too much. We didn't want to get into hand-picking bars, bingo halls, pull-tab parlors, (etc.) ... It was more or less a compromise to ease into the program without ending everyone's right to smoke."
That left the ordinance banning smoking in eating establishments up for consideration.
Several audience members shared their views on the matter with the council during the meeting. Of the 12 who spoke, six were against the ordinance. The speakers made arguments that tobacco smoke isn't as bad as some reports make it seem, that it isn't the council's place to legislate health or moral issues and that the ordinance takes away the business owners' decision-making rights.
"I do believe this is an issue of private enterprise," said Mike Baxter of Kenai. "We don't need to be lobbying our government to pass laws like this. We need to lobby the ... restaurant owners. If there's enough call for this we will have no-smoking places."
The speakers who were for the ordinance argued that smoking is a health risk and a nuisance to other restaurant patrons.
"(Smoke in restaurants) is not only obnoxious, it's also very bad for your health," said Greg Daniels of Kenai. "... Yes, there could be some financial burden on some of the restaurant owners, but what is the price of clean air? Death? Illness? Seventeen thousand dollars to put in a new ventilation system?"
In prior meetings, the majority of public comment has been in favor of the nonsmoking ordinance. Council members Pat Porter, Linda Swarner and Joe Moore cited the public comments they've heard in favor of the ordinance as the main reason they were voting to pass it.
"(I support it) only because of what I've heard from the public," Moore said. "I really do believe in the freedom of choice."
Williams also voted in favor of the ordinance. He based his decision on the fact that smokers can handle not smoking on long airplane flights, so not smoking for an hour in a restaurant shouldn't be that hard, and because smoking in a restaurant infringes on the rights of nonsmokers, he said.
"That person's right to smoke stops right here when it gets to my nose," he said.
Council members Amy Jackman and Jim Bookey voted against the ordinance. Jackman said she did not support it because smoking is a moral issue and not something the council should decide for business owners. Bookey has been an opponent of the ordinance since it was first suggested, saying that it is a private sector issue.
Now that the ordinance has been passed, Kenai eating establishments have until Oct. 2 to come into compliance with it. They can either ban smoking altogether, or make the necessary renovations to put in ventilation systems and enclosures if they will continue to allow smoking in bar areas.
The services of the Tobacco Control Alliance of the Kenai Peninsula were offered to the council in making the transition. In other action Wednesday, the council:
n Voted unanimously to accept higher-than-expected revenues, $50,000, from meal donations for the senior citizens' program and use it to buy more food for the program.
n Voted unanimously to approve a 10-year lease application from James H. Doyle for a tract of land in the Gusty subdivision to be used for trailer storage.
n Voted unanimously to amend the lease held by Roger and Linda Petrey for the Wings Airport Cafe in the Kenai Municipal Airport to allow them to operate their coffee bar out of the glassed-in space in the terminal's lobby, currently occupied by the Kenai Chamber of Commerce display.
n Voted unanimously to assign the lease of a lot on the airport apron from Bob's Pawn Inc. and W.W. Wilson III to Russell G. Winger. The lease was issued for aircraft storage but is amended with the reassignment to allow for aircraft maintenance as well.
n Voted unanimously to transfer a lease and security assignment of the lease for Alaskalanes Inc. from Ken Liedes and Mike Trujillo to just Liedes.
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