Tobacco is target of new antismoking push in Legislature

E-cigarettes, smoking in public on the table

Marijuana is old news. A pair of bills gathering support in the Alaska Legislature promise significant changes to limits on tobacco smoke in the 49th state.


HB40, sponsored by Rep. Bob Herron, D-Bethel, would add e-cigarettes to the state’s antismoking laws. SB1, proposed by Sen. Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, would prohibit smoking in public places, restaurants and bars across the state. SB1 would effectively spread the antismoking ordinances of Anchorage, Juneau and other Alaska municipalities to the rest of the state.

Herron and Micciche each said their bills should not be considered related.

“It’s nothing against smokers, it’s nothing against the users of e-cigarettes or people who like to vape,” Micciche said of SB1. “It just says you should do that in a place that doesn’t cause me to smoke, use an e-cigarette or vape. … It’s essentially the take-it-outside act.”

If passed into law, the draft being considered by the Senate’s Health and Social Services committee would prohibit smoking indoors at most public spaces. Smokers wouldn’t be able to light up in a store, in a bus station, in a stadium, in a club, in an airport, in a school (public or private) and a long list of other places.

Smoking would also be prohibited in outdoor stadiums or amphitheaters, at playgrounds and near the entrances of places where smoking is prohibited.

“The bill is about protecting Alaska’s workers,” Micciche said, explaining that while a customer might be able to leave a business that allows smoking, that business’s employees may not be able to.

And yes, marijuana is covered under SB1, whose definition of smoking includes “tobacco or plant product(s).”

There are exceptions to SB1: Smoke shops and clubs designed specifically for smoking can allow it. Smoking is also allowed on fishing boats working offshore. Fines may be levied on businesses that violate the law.

Herron said his bill is more limited; it simply adds e-cigarettes to the state’s existing antismoking laws. It’s inspired by an experience he had in Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport: and saw a young man using an e-cigarette while standing in front of an antismoking billboard. Standing with him were two young girls, presumably members of his family.

E-cigarettes and vaporizers — both of which function by using high heat to ignite controlled amounts of fluid or solid substances — are promoted as healthier alternatives to traditional tobacco smoking. Few studies have been conducted on the long-term health effects of e-cigarettes — studying them is complicated by the fact that there are hundreds of e-cigarette and vaporizer varieties — but preliminary scientific results show they emit chemicals similar to those in tobacco smoke, if not in the same quantity.

The negative health effects of smoking and secondhand smoke are well-known, and it is estimated that up to 40,000 Americans die each year as a result of secondhand smoke-related illnesses.

While SB1 has yet to emerge from committee and HB40 has not had a hearing, both are expected to face opposition from Alaskans concerned that the new legislation would infringe on their rights.

Fairbanks is the largest Alaska city that does not ban smoking in bars and restaurants. In a Feb. 11 hearing about SB1, Sen. Pete Kelly, a Republican from Fairbanks, said he’s skeptical about secondhand smoke claims. “The junk science, that’s what I’m particularly afraid of,” he said. “Because we see it all the time in environmental issues. I mean, global warming is nonsense and yet people throw those statistics around like they’re absolute hardcore facts. So that’s what I just want to make sure — we’re not dealing with junk science about 41,000 deaths.”

One of the Alaskans who testified in support of SB1 at the hearing was Gerald Timmons of Fairbanks. Timmons is a 74-year-old nonsmoker and former smokejumper who now owns three car washes. He lives in Kelly’s district and on Wednesday returned from the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota where he has been undergoing intensive chemotherapy for lung cancer he attributes to growing up in and working in smoke-filled environments.

“Constantly, in offices, small conference rooms where I would be the only nonsmoker, and there would be smoke thick enough to cut with a knife,” he said.

Timmons’ type of cancer is particularly aggressive, and his odds are not good. Still, he’s trying to stay optimistic and talked about the new drugs that may extend his life. “I’ve had a good life, but I want to continue it for a few more years,” he said.

Timmons heard Kelly’s comments at the Feb. 11 hearing. “I thought, Pete, please! If Anchorage and other (cities) can have a no-smoking in the workplace environment, (I can) at least push for that statewide. … I’m going to work on Pete, believe me.”

Timmons said he’s concerned about the workers who might end up in the same position he’s in. “I suspect it’s probably the poorest among us, the dishwashers in some mom-and-pop restaurant somewhere, the waitresses, and they’re in a smoky environment,” he said. “It’s not fair to any other employee.”

• Contact news editor James Brooks at 523.2258 or at



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