Smoking days numbered

Juneau bars have 10 months before ban takes effect

Posted: Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Time is running short for the smoky days - and nights - of Juneau's saloons. This is the final year for legal smoking in bars.

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Smokers have about 10 months left before a smoking ban takes effect in bars on Jan. 2, 2008. Some think the city's Clean Air Ordinance is just another government intrusion, while others eagerly await a virtually smoke-free Juneau.

Howie Sholl, who was enjoying a cigarette at the Imperial Saloon on Tuesday afternoon, said it should be up to the owner of each establishment to decide whether or not smoking is allowed.

It's not city government business to say where and when people decide to smoke, he said.

The Juneau affiliate of the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence is hoping to change the attitudes of smokers through an education campaign, aided by a $69,855 grant it received last week from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

"(The grant) will be used to assist the city in every way we can in implementing the ordinance to make Juneau indoor air completely smoke-free," NCADD Juneau Executive Director Matt Felix said.

NCADD Juneau was one of roughly a dozen agencies nationwide selected for a grant, he added. The money will go toward publications and advertising, he said.

"The funding will be used to educate the businesses about the ordinance so they understand the requirements of the ordinance," Felix said.

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Both businesses and individuals could face fines for lighting up after the deadline.

More education is needed, Billings said. He was concerned about what would happen with the cutoff date looming.

"I think each individual bar owner is concerned about it, obviously, because we are adamantly against this ordinance coming up," he said.

Ethan Billings, owner of Marlintini's Lounge and vice president of the Lynn Canal Cabaret, Hotel, Restaurant & Retailer's Association, also said the ordinance amounts to government meddling.

"I should have the right to say if I have a nonsmoking establishment rather than government coming in and dictating what I do," he said.

Billings has held a handful of smoke-free comedy shows at Marlintini's Lounge over the past year to see what business might be like when the ban takes effect.

The shows have drawn people, but that doesn't necessarily mean business as usual after the ban, he said. Getting people through the doors and getting them to spend money at your bar are two different things, he added.

"I would say that smokers tend to drink more, tip more and stay in the bar longer," Billings said.

Studies by communities large and small have shown that businesses actually tend to prosper once the no-smoking switch is made, Felix said.

"During the first quarter, when people are adjusting, there are some ups and downs, but over the long run, business improved for both restaurants and bars," he said.

"There is no way to predict exactly what is going to happen because Juneau is pretty unique compared to California and Florida," Billings said. "To say that my business is going to increase because of it is an invalid statement. We won't really know until it happens."

The entire community will eventually benefit from the ordinance because it will make the community healthier overall, Felix said. According to NCADD Juneau, more than 140 Alaskans died in 2006 from exposure to secondhand smoke, which also caused health-care expenditures to soar to more than $12 million.

"The major benefit of going completely smoke-free is you eliminate some of the medical costs that goes along with secondhand smoke," Felix said.

In the meantime people will smoke 'em in bars if they've got 'em.

"Really the biggest issue is you don't know what is going to happen," Billings said. "It could be positive or negative."

• Eric Morrison can be reached at eric.morrison@juneauempire.com.



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