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Smoking ban vote scheduled Monday

Effect on health, businesses main focus of Assembly proposal

Posted: Sunday, September 09, 2001

Shortly before 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, the bingo players inside the Alaska Native Brotherhood Hall are waiting for the game to start. The table between Rebecca Nelson and her sister is filled with cups of steaming coffee, bingo "throwaways" and colored daubers. As the two joke with each other, a tendril of smoke curls from Nelson's cigarette in a nearby ashtray.

"To tell you the truth, I don't smoke at home," Nelson said. "I can play without smoking."

And if smoking is banned at bingo, Nelson said she'll still come and play.

"I'll just suffer I guess," she said.

Juneau Assembly members are scheduled to consider an ordinance Monday that would prohibit smoking in public places. As written, it would apply to Juneau's bingo halls, restaurants, offices, cabs, many hotel rooms, stores, pull tab parlors and bowling alleys. It wouldn't apply to bars.

Eleanor L. John, who was playing bingo across the room from Nelson, said she hopes the ordinance passes. She said she might come to bingo more often if smoking was prohibited.

"I don't know why they haven't done it a long time ago. When you consider how dangerous second-hand smoke is, I don't know why this was ever allowed to begin with," she said. "I thank God I never ever picked up that filthy habit."

Grace Hill, who manages ANB Grand Camp Scholarship Bingo, said she thinks a smoking ban would mean fewer players. There has been discussion about putting up partitions to separate smokers and nonsmokers if the ordinance is approved, she said.

"People like coming here, relaxing, smoking their cigarettes, drinking their coffee and playing their game," she said.

The Juneau Tobacco Prevention Network proposed the smoking ban as a way to limit the exposure of children and workers to second-hand smoke, according to member Mary Becker, a community coordinator at SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium.

"We view this as a real health issue," said Becker, who also serves as Juneau School Board president. "Workers don't have choices and children don't have choices. And there are many people who don't know that they should be making a different choice."

The Juneau Tobacco Prevention Network published a list of 42 Juneau restaurants that already are smoke-free. Based on experiences elsewhere, Becker said the group doesn't expect any negative economic impacts in Juneau. In fact, some people may go to restaurants more often if smoking is banned, she said.

"We are extremely sensitive to our businesses and think our businesses are very important. But we think health issues are more important," she said. "We don't think businesses will lose money."

But Murray Damitio, owner of The Hangar on the Wharf, isn't so sure. When he opened the nonsmoking Hangar Ballroom across the hall from his restaurant in 1999, people didn't come, he said.

The restaurant and bar at the Hangar were designed to limit second-hand smoke, he said, and the city's ordinance would change his entire business.

"What I would like to see the city do is table (the ordinance) temporarily and put together a work group that might have something positive to contribute," he said. "We might be able to come up with some solutions that are equitable and will work."

At the Westmark Baranof Hotel, manager Gerd Krause isn't sure what his business will do if the smoking ban is approved. As now written, the ordinance would require the Baranof to enclose its bar or make it smoke-free. Krause worries it would put the Baranof at a competitive disadvantage with bars down the street where smoking would be permitted.

"I truly believe that the customer decides what he or she wants. If they don't want smoking, you will become nonsmoking," he said. "The market needs to decide, not the government."

Juneau Tobacco Prevent Network member Joan Cahill said the local government has a responsibility to protect people who don't have the choice of avoiding tobacco smoke.

Currently, the ordinance would take effect 90 days after adoption. Becker said her group would agree to give businesses six months to comply with the ban.

"The coalition would like to see this Assembly pass this ordinance, and we'd like to see the ordinance be a strong ordinance," she said.

The smoking ordinance is scheduled for public hearing at Monday's Assembly meeting. Juneau Mayor Sally Smith said Assembly members may or may not take action on the proposal, depending on how much and what kind of testimony they hear.

If it is late in the evening, and the Assembly wants more time to deliberate, action could be delayed until the next regular meeting in October, with a work session in between, she said.

"I think it's an important ordinance. It's also important for it not to be a knee-jerk reaction," she said. "It seriously needs to be considered not only for health considerations, but employment situations."

Specifically, Assembly members need to look at how far people can smoke from an entrance to a public building, what sort of signs need to be posted and enforcement, she said.

Back at the ANB Hall, a change in culture might be on the horizon for Juneau's bingo players. Alisa Elie, who works at bingo and drives cab, said things were different when games were played at Centennial Hall, where smoking is not allowed.

"You would have an average of 300 people a night, and well, 150 were running outside between each break. It slowed down bingo because they wanted to go have their cigarette," she said.

*****

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



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