A city task force assigned to determine the economic impacts of Juneau's new smoking ordinance on pulltab parlors and bingo halls reached little common ground Saturday in its task of making a recommendation to the Juneau Assembly.
The ordinance that went into effect in January banned smoking in most public places, but exempted bars, tobacco stores and some restaurants that sell alcohol.
The Smoking and Charitable Gaming Task Force was formed by the Juneau Assembly last March after pulltab parlor and bingo hall operators complained that the smoking ordinance has hurt their businesses. Pulltab parlor operators also argued that local bars that offer pulltab gaming have siphoned their customer base.
The task force is made up of eight members representing the gaming community and various health organizations.
At the Saturday meeting the task force agreed that second-hand smoke does create a significant health risk and that the ordinance, as written, is applied unfairly due to the exemptions.
But the majority of the committee did not agree on how or when the ordinance should be amended to correct the inequities.
The majority of task force members felt that amendments to the ordinance should wait until January, when the mayor convenes a task force to review the ordinance's effect on the community.
"The majority does agree, however, that the ordinance should be amended in the near future to eliminate all exemptions and be enforced equitably throughout the borough," the task force's statement read. "The minority recommends that gaming establishments should be exempt due to the unfair business climate that the ordinance creates within the gaming community."
Roger McCoy, a task force member and owner of pulltab parlors in Juneau and Fairbanks, said business is down by 38 percent at his Juneau stores, forcing him to close his Player's Choice parlor downtown because of competition from nearby bars.
"I've seen in our stores we still maintain some customers, but they leave after five minutes," he said. "Why? Because they want to have a cigarette."
McCoy said the ordinance should be changed to mirror a similar ordinance in Anchorage that exempts pulltab parlors. He also suggested that such businesses should post signs noting that it is a smoking establishment and should install ventilation systems to help remove second-hand smoke.
While acknowledging that business at pulltab parlors and bingo halls has decreased, Matt Felix of the National Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependency, who sits on the task force, said it cannot be determined that the ordinance is the cause for the drop in business.
There has been a substantial reduction in all businesses throughout the borough within the last year, Felix said.
"The ordinance may have had some undue impact, or it may not," he said. "That impact cannot be separated from the other factors that took place during that period of time - seasonal factors, 9-11, the fact that the Alaska economy has taken an exceptionally unusual hit this last year."
Felix said he would agree to amending the ordinance by making all establishments nonsmoking.
Task force chairwoman Judy George, representing Tlingit and Haida Indians of Juneau, said some people have stopped coming to bingo halls, but the majority of those attending want the ordinance to stay in place.
George said that after the ordinance went into place "people were saying, 'Wow, what a place; you can see down to the end of the hall.' "
A survey of 148 people at local bingo halls over a three-week period last May showed that 57 percent wanted to keep the facility nonsmoking. Twenty-seven percent voted to repeal the ordinance for bingo halls and 16 percent were undecided.
Of those who participated in the survey, 108 people, or 73 percent, identified themselves as smokers.
George said task force members not present Saturday will be given a chance to review and approve the recommendations. The findings will be presented to the Assembly by the end of September.
Timothy Inklebarger can be reached at email@example.com.
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