City's bars may go smoke-free in early 2008

Assembly's Committee of the Whole OKs ban on smoking in restaurants next year

Posted: Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Juneau will become the largest city in Alaska to ban smoking in all businesses if the Assembly sticks to a unanimous vote taken Monday night.

The Assembly Committee of the Whole agreed to ban smoking in all restaurant bars by Jan. 2, 2005, and stand-alone bars by Jan. 2, 2008. The committee that voted for the ban includes all Assembly members, but members must hear public comments and vote again to complete an ordinance.

The decision likely marks the end of a nearly two-year-long effort by the Juneau Clean Air Coalition to challenge opposition by business owners who say the law will hurt them financially. Last week talks by both sides broke down, leaving the Assembly to decide the issue.

Some bar owners complained the looming ban would make it hard to sell their properties.

"It puts me into a spin," said Neil Atkinson, co-owner of G.W. Teals. "How do you get a bank to finance you knowing four years down the line that you're going to lose a certain percentage of your business?"

The committee's decision will lead to the introduction of an ordinance next Monday. A public hearing would be scheduled for June 14.

JCAC was willing to settle on an April 1, 2007, ban for stand-alone bars during negotiations. But the Cabaret, Hotel, Restaurant and Retailers said they would only discuss a ban by Jan. 2, 2010.

Assembly member Jeannie Johnson offered a compromise date of Jan. 2, 2008, versus a recommendation by Mayor Bruce Botelho of Jan. 2, 2007. The Assembly took a straw vote that had them tied at 4-4 for the two dates. Assembly member Merrill Sanford was absent.

Botelho then gave up one year to secure unanimous consent with a 2008 date.

"The importance of having unanimity on the Assembly sends strength in terms of the community view, and once it's enacted it would stay in place," Botelho said.

JCAC would have preferred an earlier smoking ban date, but understands the politics of the issue, JCAC Chair Joan Cahill said.

"It's really out there, but we understand the Assembly wants unanimity on this," Cahill said.

Assembly members had been divided over whether to vote on the issue or put it up for a vote in October. Committee Chairman Jim Powell said he was swayed against a public vote after Cahill told him the majority of U.S. municipalities decided smoke-free laws compared to those put up for a vote. Of the 1,705 municipalities with smoke-free laws, only 14 were passed by ballot, according to the Alaska Native Health Board.

Also in JCAC's favor was the fact that other states and nations have gone smoke-free since the group began its campaign in the summer of 2002, Cahill said.

Meanwhile, in Juneau, Atkinson and other bar owners are going to need to figure out how to generate more revenue in preparation for the ban, he said.

Atkinson said he can't expand his Mendenhall Mall bar, because the mall owns the building. Not enough space exists to offer live music besides the current Saturday night karaoke. Offering more food as part of his daily lunches could be an option, he said.

"It's a tough situation to figure out how to get more income," Atkinson said.

Juneau Family Moose Center Administrator Jim Reid is worried the lodge will lose business the way the airport restaurant did when the city's first clean indoor air ordinance took effect Jan. 1, 2002. That ordinance allows smoking in some restaurant bars that were grandfathered, and in all stand-alone bars.

"I don't think government should regulate my business. Let my customers regulate my business," Reid said.

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