FAIRBANKS (AP) Local health advocates and a growing number of business owners are promoting a voluntary ban on smoking in most enclosed public places in Fairbanks, hoping to get it done one restaurant at a time.
In May, a group dedicated to reducing exposure to secondhand smoke, released a list of nearly 80 smoke-free restaurants in the city. The number released by Fair Air reflected an increase of about 10 establishments over the previous year.
''Just about four years ago, there was less than a dozen, so it's pretty rapidly changing,'' said Diann Darnall, community educator for Fair Air.
Four more Fairbanks businesses, including longtime eateries and a new buffet, recently joined the cause.
Advocates say the effort is to protect diners and employees from secondhand fumes.
If nothing else, it has simplified business, said Denny's manager Joe Hendricks. The restaurant now can seat people evenly without filling up one section while another sits vacant.
''I can't tell a loss in sales,'' Hendricks said. The Fairbanks Denny's was the last in Alaska to ban smoking.
Chena Hot Springs Resort, the Geraldo's Restaurant & Pizzeria on College Road and the China One International Buffet also went smoke-free, Darnall said.
Most restaurant owners said the changes haven't appeared to affect business.
Geraldo's smaller size made it tough to accommodate both smokers and nonsmokers.
''It's just a better environment for our customers to be in,'' said owner Gary Falls.
Not everyone is happy with the trend.
''I'm smoking right now,'' said Richard Barnes, manager of the novelty and smoking accessories shop Mr. Rock & Roll.
Barnes said he respects nonsmokers, and particularly kids' rights to clean air, but by using ventilation and partitions, restaurants can still safely serve their smoking patrons.
''It'll be a sad day when you cannot smoke in any public building ever, but that's what I see happening,'' he said.
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