Group sues Anchorage over public smoking ban

Posted: Wednesday, February 28, 2007

ANCHORAGE - A group that opposes a possible public smoking ban filed a lawsuit against the city on Monday.

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The lawsuit, filed by representatives from Stomp the Ban, said the city is illegally campaigning on the issue, which is up for a vote during local elections in April.

The Anchorage Assembly voted to expand the city smoking ban to bars, bingo halls and other public places. In response, Stomp the Ban has collected enough signatures to put the question on the ballot on April 3. The new law is scheduled to take effect July 1.

The suit was filed by Alex Crawford, a Stomp the Ban member, Assembly candidate and member of the Alaska Libertarian Party. Crawford said the city's campaign against his group's referendum violates municipal law. The city is supposed to remain neutral, he said.

Crawford said a public notice published this month in the Anchorage Daily News and on the city Web site does not mention that Anchorage businesses told the Assembly that the ban would hurt their operations.

The lawsuit calls for the city to stop publishing the notice and to write a retraction.

"By presenting only one side, they can swing an election," said Crawford, who said he works as a temporary file clerk for an oil company.

The notice cites a University of Alaska Anchorage study that found "no significant" loss of jobs after a city ban on smoking in many public places took effect in 2001.

City attorney Jim Reeves said the city can back up everything it published and has complied with city laws.

The notice also says less secondhand smoke would mean fewer people would get expensive illnesses and miss time at work, and insurance premiums would fall.

Reeves said the municipality has nothing to apologize for.

"The reason they don't like (the public notice) is because it's not making their argument for them," Reeves said. "I don't think there's any question that there are public health effects of secondhand smoking."

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