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City moves toward smoking ban

Ordinance would prevent lighting up in public places or near their entrances

Posted: Tuesday, August 07, 2001

A Juneau Assembly committee on Monday unanimously approved an ordinance that would ban smoking in several more public places, including restaurants, offices, stores and hospitals.

It would not apply to enclosed bars and tobacco stores, but would limit smoking outside buildings where smoke could enter through windows, doors or ventilation systems. Anchorage and Bethel have approved similar ordinances.

A majority of the roughly 30 people who attended the Human Resources Committee meeting wore green ribbons to show support for the measure.

Doris Robbins, who said she contracted asthma and a chronic sinus infection after breathing in secondhand smoke for years in her old office, said smoking in public places is a significant concern. Smoke at bus stops and other places affects her health, she said.

"I'm happy for smokers to smoke, but I need to breathe. It's a serious problem," she said.

Mary Becker of the Juneau Tobacco Prevention Network asked the committee to pass a strong ordinance.

"We feel we're on the right track. Secondhand smoke is the third highest cause of preventable death. The people of Juneau will breathe easier with the passage of this ordinance," she said.

Eric McDowell of the research firm the McDowell Group presented the results of a telephone survey of 307 Juneau residents in early May prepared for the Juneau Tobacco Prevention Network. Three-quarters of respondents said they favored making all indoor public spaces in Juneau smoke-free, with more than half indicating they strongly favor the idea, according to the survey. About one in five respondents opposed the idea.

"Rarely have we done a study where the results were so conclusive," McDowell said.

Renee Rieser, who was one of two people to speak against the proposal, said she realized her testimony would be unpopular.

"Let the market forces decide whether restaurant bars should be non-smoking," she said.

The committee unanimously approved the ordinance after making a series of amendments to clarify language. Assembly Member Marc Wheeler said it was an important issue to move to the full Assembly for more comment.

Assembly member Dale Anderson, who voted for the ordinance, thanked the people who spoke against it. While he said understood the health consequences of smoking and doesn't like tobacco smoke, he said it was not an easy decision.

"Someone tonight is going to lose their freedom of choice and that I take very seriously," he said. "I represent all the people in Juneau, not just the non-smokers. This conundrum is a very tough one to me and I want everyone to think very carefully about it."

The measure now goes to the full Assembly for introduction on Aug. 20. Another public hearing is scheduled Sept. 10.

Joanna Markell can be reached at joannam@juneauempire.com.



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