According to a report compiled by two University of Alaska Southeast graduate students, the city of Soldotna's restaurant smoking ban appears to be having little economic impact on Soldotna businesses although businesses outside of town are reporting an increase in traffic.
The report, compiled by Nikiski's Holly Norwood and Juneau's Joan Cahill, was prepared as part of the women's course in program evaluation at the university, and presented by Norwood at the Soldotna City Council meeting Wednesday.
She told the council that the 2002 ordinance has driven some smokers to out-of-town restaurants, but that has been countered by more people dining out who previously avoided smoky restaurants.
"There are some residents that are migrating out of Soldotna because of the ordinance, but there are more Soldotna residents that are eating out," Norwood told the council.
The information for the report was gathered by interviewing restaurant staff, owners and patrons inside and outside city limits. Seventeen businesses were visited, with a total of 155 individuals participating in the study. Of those 155 people, the majority were from Soldotna, although residents of Sterling, Kenai, Kasilof, Nikiski, the Kalifornsky Beach area and elsewhere also were questioned.
Norwood said participants were asked a variety of questions, including how often they eat out, whether they prefer smoking or nonsmoking restaurants, thoughts on secondhand smoke and whether they felt like business had increased or decreased.
Overall, Norwood said compliance with the ordinance appears to be close to 100 percent.
"There have been no violations (of the ordinance) in the city so far," she said.
Norwood presented figures that show Soldotna eatery owners generally feel like the ordinance has not hurt their businesses, although there were exceptions.
"One restaurant owner said his business was down 30 percent," she said.
However, she noted that business had a specific clientele that consisted of high levels of smokers who moved their meetings elsewhere after the ban went into effect.
Norwood and Cahill's report was praised by council members, who said it shows the ordinance is working and has not had the detrimental impact some business owners had feared.
"This is an awesome report," council member Sharon Moock said.
Moock said she believes the report validates the council's decision to ban smoking in restaurants and requested that the city send a letter of thanks to Norwood and Cahill for their hard work.
In other action Wednesday, the council approved an updated comprehensive plan for the Soldotna airport. According to City Manager Tom Boedeker, the plan provides direction for the airport and spells out how future development should take place. Boedeker said the plan stresses private, general aviation over commercial needs.
"It is primarily a long-term plan that is focused on general aviation, not commercial," he told the council.
The plan recommends eventual changes for the airport, including a relocated ultralight runway, additional land acquisition and the realignment of Funny River Road. However, the changes are only recommendations and none are in the works at this time.
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