Study says Anchorage smoking ban working better than expected

Posted: Thursday, January 03, 2002

ANCHORAGE - Anchorage's tough smoking law, in effect for one year, is working better than expected and has not hurt local businesses, according to a new report.

"I think it's been pretty effective," said Chris Tofteberg, the supervisor in charge of enforcing the law, which bans smoking in most enclosed public places. "We get all the complaints that come in. There's pretty much total compliance."

Juneau enacted a law very similar to Anchorage's in October and it went into effect Tuesday.

A one-year report required by the Anchorage law and produced by the Institute for Circumpolar Health Studies says the feared loss of business predicted by people who opposed the ban hasn't happened.

"There was no detectable impact on total employment in the Anchorage hospitality industry as a whole after the smoking ban took effect," the study said. Researchers say that, since the ban, more than 7,500 employees in 437 local restaurants no longer breathe secondhand smoke as a condition of their employment.

Not everybody is happy about the Anchorage law.

The Son of River City pool hall on Fireweed Lane has been destroyed by the ban, said owner Kent Andersson.

"My business is cut in half. Literally in half," Andersson said.

The Anchorage Assembly exempted bingo parlors, pull tab outlets and bars but not pool halls.

Hot Shots, a pool hall that had been in a mall, had to move because its patrons couldn't step outside to grab a cigarette.

Renamed Run-A-Rack, the relocated pool hall has a no-smoking area open to the public and a four-table private room where smoking is allowed. But it cost owner Jim Foss a lot of money, and although business is climbing steadily, it's not back to where it used to be, he said.

"I don't think they should have told a business that you do not have the freedom of choice," said Foss, who thinks businesses should be able to declare themselves smoking or nonsmoking.

The findings of the report infuriate Don Skewis, chairman of the Cabaret, Hotel, Restaurant and Retailers Association of Alaska. Many restaurant employees who are being saved from secondhand smoke are taking 15-minute breaks so they can stand out in the cold and suck in firsthand smoke, said Skewis, a nonsmoker and owner of the Crossroads Bar.

"The law is a farce," said Skewis, who predicted bars will be the next target of anti-smoking forces.

But Anchorage Assembly Chairman Dick Traini said it is unlikely the ban will be revised in the near future.

"I think people are quite happy about the way it's turned out and really don't want to mess with it," he said. "There is nothing on the horizon to indicate there's any will to change things."

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