Smoke gets in their eyes

Bar, restaurant workers suffer under current smoking ordinance

Posted: Sunday, April 18, 2004

Kristen Josserand says she coughed up black phlegm for six months straight after working in Juneau bars for about 20 years.

Josserand enjoyed the nightly pay from bartending and loved socializing with the regulars, she said.

She hated the cigarette smoke.

"It's your form of cancer; it's your death," she said in a recent interview.

A nonsmoker, Josserand would take a couple of puffs on a cigarette at the beginning of her shift to "permeate" herself, she said. Otherwise she'd cough and have watery eyes all night.

She doesn't want any other bar worker or patron to ever have to suffer so they can simply enjoy a night out on the town.

Anti-smoking advocates are trying to eliminate that issue in Juneau by making all public facilities and businesses smoke-free.

"The No. 1 biggest problem is people are treated unfairly," said Joan Cahill, chair of Juneau Clean Air Coalition. "If you're unfortunate enough to work for one of the businesses that is exempted, you are not provided the same protection by law that's offered every other worker in Juneau."

Many business owners say they and their employees will suffer. Some fear closure. Owners have spoken out against an all-out smoking ban, placed advertisements and showed up in numbers at a recent Juneau Assembly meeting to pressure lawmakers against such a ban. They admit smoking is harmful to one's health, but say the public should have the choice to patronize a smoking or non-smoking business.

Friends Joanna McDowell and Laura Watson say they would be less inclined to frequent the Hangar and other establishments that allow smoking if a city-wide ban went into effect.

"To be quite honest, I probably wouldn't go out as much - a lot less," said McDowell, a smoker.

McDowell doesn't smoke in her home, but likes to stop by the Hangar on the Wharf twice a week for lunch and enjoy a cigarette with her meal. Watson, a nonsmoker, goes there about four times a week for meals. She typically sits in the smoking section, she said, because a friend smokes or seating is available right away.

A better ventilation system at establishments may be a better answer than an all-out smoking ban, McDowell and Watson say.

"It should be up to the establishment's owner whether to allow smoking," McDowell said. "It should be the business owners' choice for their clientele."

Chinook's Restaurant in the Goldbelt Hotel decided to go smoke-free instead of investing money in a barrier, Joanne Wiita, director of marketing and sales, has said. The restaurant, located across the street from the Hangar on the Wharf, has lost money as a result.

The ordinance prohibits smoking in restaurants and restaurant bars opening since Jan. 1, 2002. Smoking is allowed in stand-alone bars.

Five establishments legally termed a "bar restaurant" are grandfathered under the ordinance and may allow smoking. They are Chinese Palace, Squires Restaurant, Baranof Hotel, Hangar on the Wharf and the Red Dog Saloon. These places do not have to isolate their bars from their dining rooms until their license is transferred at some time after the effective date of the ordinance. "Bar restaurant" is defined in the ordinance to mean a beverage dispensary authorized to include a dining room by a state license prior to the ordinance taking effect.

The ordinance defines other establishments as "bars" that may allow smoking only if they isolate their bars by Dec. 30, 2001 or as late as June 28, 2002 if construction problems warranted a delay. Those are The Breakwater Inn, Travel Lodge, Frontier Suites, Goldbelt Hotel, Alaskan Hotel & Bar, and The Prospector/ T.K. McGuires. A "bar" is defined in the ordinance as a beverage dispensary, other than a bar restaurant, licensed by the state.

Exemptions in the law create an unfair economic playing field, said Kattaryna Stiles, policy coordinator for Alaskans for Tobacco-Free Kids in Anchorage.

"It (a smoking ban) creates a better business playing field," Stiles said. "Everybody wins because everybody's health is better and the economics are better."

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