Panel puts smoking ban on the table

Committee suggests Assembly look at making all Juneau businesses smoke-free

Posted: Friday, February 20, 2004

In a blow to bar owners, a city committee decided Thursday to offer the option for discussion that all public facilities and businesses be smoke-free in Juneau.

The Mayor's Smoking Ordinance Review Task Force included that option as part of its report on the current Clean Indoor-Air Ordinance that it will present to the Juneau Assembly.

"We're providing the option (to the Assembly) to solve the division in the community," Committee Chairman Matt Felix said.

Committee member and bar owner Leeann Thomas is opposed to including the option in the language of the report, but said she was essentially outvoted. Some committee members wanted to make the option a recommendation at the previous meeting, but Thomas opposed that decision.

She isn't sure if she will have the support to change the language when the committee meets again next Thursday to finalize the report.

"This is impacting us," Thomas said afterward. "We have a committee that doesn't have a feel for business making a business decision."

Owners of bars and fraternal organizations say a smoking ban will reduce their revenue and possibly cause some to close. Proponents say it will create healthier working conditions and allow a more level playing field.

Under the current ordinance, some restaurant bars are exempted and allow smoking. Standalone bars are not subject to the ordinance.

But the Juneau Clean Air Coalition wants to change that and is lobbying city leaders to make all bars and restaurants smoke-free.

The coalition has been using its muscle to lobby for its cause, Thomas said, but the committee was only supposed to review the progress of the current ordinance. Felix, also executive director of the Juneau office of the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, originally said he would not address the coalition's proposal.

But a change in Felix's review of the current ordinance became evident a few weeks ago when he issued a study that said bar patrons have not migrated from non-smoking to smoking establishments. The consulting firm C&S Management Associates in Juneau wrote the study, but the council on alcoholism paid for it, Thomas said.

The study said gross sales tax figures for the bar and restaurant industry had climbed. That was due to an October 2002 increase in state liquor sales tax, bar owners said afterward. Their bottom lines have decreased due to the tax and other factors, including higher rates for minimum wage, liquor liability insurance and worker's compensation.

"The business today is not the business it was 15 years ago. It's not the business it was three years ago," said Neil Atkinson, co-owner of G. W. Teal, a bar that serves food in the Mendenhall Valley.

If bar owners go out of business in Juneau, they can't easily get another liquor license because the city is at its cap for the number of licenses allowed, owners say. The city has 21 beverage dispensary licenses that were issued before the late 1980s, when the Alcohol Beverage Control board set a limit of one license per every 10,000 people.

Recommendations the committee made concerning the current ordinance include:

• Banning smoking at all city bus stops.

• Asking for $12,500 annually from the Assembly for media coverage, signage and distribution of materials to individual businesses for educating the public about the ordinance.

• Having the city provide guidelines for affected businesses to comply with the ordinance.

• Better enforcement of violations of the ordinance.

Felix said he would present the report to the Assembly in about three weeks.

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