Smoking ordinance sparking controversy

Soldotna council to hold hearing on proposed ban

Posted: Sunday, October 20, 2002

The Soldotna City Council will decide Wednesday if smoking should be snuffed out in all restaurants within the city limits.

Ordinance 766, which seeks to regulate smoking in restaurants, gets its final airing at the council's regular meeting, scheduled for 7:30 p.m. at city hall. Following the public hearing, the council will vote on whether to adopt the ordinance.

Bars are not subject to the ban, although any bar that serves food would be subject to regulation under the ordinance.

The ordinance was originally brought before the council in July by council member Sharon Moock. The council has since held two public hearings on the ordinance, with most testimony before the council coming in favor of the ban.

Speaking on behalf of the ban have been several private citizens, as well as representatives from numerous anti-smoking organizations, including the American Lung Association, Alaskans for Tobacco-free Kids and the Tobacco Alliance of the Peninsula.

Supporters of the ban have argued that secondhand smoke presents a significant health hazard to both restaurant patrons and workers alike.

"There is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke," said Michelle Touhey, director of public advocacy for the American Lung Association's Alaska chapter.

Touhey noted that the Environmental Protection Agency has classified secondhand smoke as a "class A carcinogen," of which no level of exposure is considered safe.

"Fifty-three thousand nonsmokers each year die from exposure to secondhand smoke," she said Thursday afternoon.

However, not everyone agrees the city should regulate what goes on in the city's restaurants. Much of the opposition to the ban has come from restaurant owners and managers who say they will face economic hardships if the ban is imposed.

Bob Strauss, manager of the Riverside House in Soldotna, said he's opposed to the ban and would like the council to reconsider passage of the ordinance.

"It really should be up to the business owners to decide how they want to run their business," he said.

Strauss said he also was unhappy the council removed a provision that would have allowed restaurants to create designated smoking areas, as long as the area was separately ventilated from the rest of the building.

"That would have been more palatable to us," Strauss said.

That provision was removed from the ordinance Sept. 25, at the suggestion of council member Lisa Parker. Parker said at the time that the city shouldn't have to get into the business of inspecting and regulating restaurant ventilation systems.

The Wednesday meeting will be the first chance the public will have for a hearing on the amended ordinance. Strauss said he plans to be at the meeting, and he's bringing as much support as he can find. He said, at the least, he'd like the council to spend more time reviewing the potential impact of the ordinance.

"I'd just like to get them to postpone this ordinance," he said.

Another businessperson who disagrees with the ordinance is Mykel's Restaurant owner Alice Paulson. Paulson sent a letter to the council urging them to think twice about imposing smoking rules on businesses.

She pointed out that Mykel's already has a smoke-free dining room, but allows smoking in the lounge. She's worried the ban will cut into business.

"There is no need to waste tax dollars implementing and enforcing something that should be an individual businessperson's decision," read the letter.

The city would be in charge of enforcing the ban. A first offense by a business owner would result in a written warning, followed by increasing levels of fines.

Both restaurateurs and the person smoking would be subject to fines. A second offense would result in a $200 fine; a third, a $500 fine; and any subsequent violations would be subject to the same $500 fine.

If the ordinance passes, it will go into effect March 31.

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