Homer council votes against smoking ordinances

Posted: Friday, December 05, 2003

The Homer Alliance for Clean Air's efforts to secure a smoking ban in the majority of Homer's businesses were doused at Monday's city council meeting.

The Kenai and Soldotna city councils have passed smoking ban ordinances which went into effect this year.

Making it an issue of civil rights, rather than smoking versus non-smoking, the Homer City Council decided not to pursue either of the two smoking ordinances before it.

The first, co-sponsored by council members Rose Beck and Mike Yourkowski, would have banned smoking in all businesses, including restaurants but excluding bars. In a revision of the ordinance, businesses with no employees that do not serve children also would have been exempt.

In a three to two vote, this ordinance did not pass. Council members John Fenske, Rick Ladd and Doug Stark voted against it.

Yourkowski and Dennis Novak voted in favor. Rose Beck was absent.

The other ordinance, sponsored by Doug Stark, would have required businesses to post signs informing patrons whether or not smoking was allowed.

In a vote of four to one, it too failed.

Stark was the only council member to vote in favor of the ordinance.

"I can't support either one of these," Ladd said, explaining why he would vote against both ordinances. "I'm here trying to work on behalf of all citizens in this community, not a select group."

Ladd co-sponsored with former council member Ray Kranich this summer's ordinance banning smoking in city-owned buildings.

"I guess I come down to what I think is the big issue. Being a person who loves history, I do look at what our rights are all about," Ladd said. "I believe that that's what we need to do, is instill the right of choice."

Fenske and Ladd both made their positions clear.

Fenske, a former smoker who admitted it took awhile to realize the hazards of the habit, said education, not legislation, was the key.

Unless tobacco is ruled an illegal substance, he said, the council can't ban its use.

Because secondhand smoke in private homes and vehicles poses more of a threat to children, education has the most chance for impact.

"They're not getting it in a bar, they're not getting it in a restaurant," he said, peaking of the concern for children's health. "They're getting it in the home and the parents need to be educated."

Although he did vote for his ordinance, Stark said he would be happy if neither proposal passed.

"I think the businesses are smart enough to adopt the standards in 63(S)," Stark said, referring to his ordinance. "I think in a very short time that will accomplish the objective that all of us in this room ... would like to see."

If the council banned smoking, it was stepping where it didn't belong, he said.

Novak, the only nonsponsoring council member to vote in favor an ordinance, disagreed in his testimony.

"We don't volunteer for this job to create a police state here in Homer," he said. "I kind of resent the people that imply that. It's a public health issue of smoking in public places."

Throughout this process, Homer has come down on two sides of the issue, and that was reflected both in the public testimony and the council's summaries of their decisions.

While some people denied the hazards of secondhand smoke, the majority of those against the ban invoked the same civil rights arguments as Ladd.

Of those for the ban, many worked in medical professions and told stories of patients who had died from smoking-related cancers.

Others contended that public health should trump civil rights when one person's actions were harming another.

Of all the testimonies, there was not a clear majority on either side. Both have claimed a preponderance of support.

The alliance cited a survey last fall where 60 percent of Homer's registered voters said they would support a ban.

Those against the ban circulated a petition signed by more than 1,400 people. They also surveyed businesses.

Of the 100 businesses who filled out the questionnaires, five nonsmoking businesses were for the ban and 69 were against it.

Carly Bossert is a reporter at the Homer News.

"This is not an issue of secondhand smoke. This is an issue of government control," said Tanya Norvell, who testified last week when the meeting was recessed. "All of our lives are a series of choices. If an establishment allows smoking, you and I have a choice not to walk across the threshold."

Pam Fields said as a Mormon, she does not smoke, drink coffee, soda or tea.

"I don't have any problem at all finding clean are to breathe in Homer," she said. "I would no more deprive people of their freedom to smoke than I would force my religion on them."

"I'd like to tell you the stories that make this dry list very real to those of us that work in health care," said Tara Moss, a physician's assistant at Homer Medial Health Clinic, referring to a list of smoking related health problems. "The list of vital, good people who have died is long. There is not safe level of exposure."

"It's frustrating to me that the whole issue has gotten confused somehow into a government control thing," said Teresa Conner. "It's a public safety issue. I am confused how it became a government control issue."

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