Assembly OKs anti-smoking law

Some bar-restaurants given exemptions

Posted: Tuesday, October 02, 2001

Most Juneau restaurants, offices and stores have three months to go smoke-free under an ordinance approved by the Juneau Assembly on Monday, although some restaurants with bars will be exempt.

City officials were going through the ordinance this morning to make sure changes made Monday reflected the intent of the Assembly, reviewing the effective date and which businesses would be exempt.

The smoking ban passed 8-1, with John MacKinnon voting no. MacKinnon said he liked the ordinance's health focus, but objected to taking away the choices of individuals and businesses. And the fact that the city plans only minimal enforcement of the ban was bad public policy, he added.

"Philosophically, I have a problem with dictating certain things to certain businesses," he said.

Assembly member Jim Powell said the ordinance is a step in the right direction.

"I think we're moving public health forward. It hasn't gone as far as I would have liked, but that's where we are now," he said.

Much of the focus in the past month has centered on how the ordinance will apply to restaurants with bars. Under earlier proposals, a restaurant with a bar would need to go smoke-free, designate itself as a bar or wall off the bar.

The Assembly exempted bars with a full beverage dispensary license and a restaurant designation until the license is sold or transferred. The change essentially "grandfathers" in five businesses: Squire's Rest, Mike's Place, the Baranof Hotel Bubble Room, Hangar on the Wharf and Chinese Palace, MacKinnon said.

The motion to exempt those bar-restaurants passed 5-4 with MacKinnon, Cathy Mu-oz, Dale Anderson, Ken Koelsch and Sally Smith voting yes. Powell, Frankie Pillifant, Marc Wheeler and Don Etheridge voted no.

Smoking also would be allowed in bars with a tourism beverage dispensary license, provided the businesses do not allow smoke to enter nonsmoking areas, MacKinnon said.

Hangar on the Wharf owner Murray Damitio said the changes help level the playing field for his business and others like it. He plans to implement additional policies and procedures to reduce second-hand smoke in nonsmoking areas, he said.

"We've certainly never been champions of smoking," he said. "We're convinced that all bars and restaurants are going to go nonsmoking eventually. We know that. That's the kind of playing field we want."

Mark Hickey, a member of the Juneau Tobacco Prevention Network, said the ordinance has some things that are positive, but the coalition is disappointed about the exemptions.

"There are significant improvements in a number of areas in bringing clean indoor air to Juneau's residents. The action of the Assembly is to be applauded," he said. "We're also disappointed in the decision about how to treat restaurants that also have bars."

At a noon work session Monday, Assembly member Koelsch offered a proposal that would have allowed restaurant-bar owners to submit a plan to the city manager that explained how they would reduce smoking inside. The compromise offered businesses a carrot toward reducing second-hand smoke, he said. The change didn't end up in the final ordinance.

"We have people who have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars," Koelsch said. "We as an Assembly are changing rules mid-stream. It's not fair. At least this gives some options."

Juneau Tobacco Prevention Network member Mary Becker described the exemptions as a step backward. She said the coalition was disappointed in Assembly members who supported the exemptions, and in the mayor in particular.

Smith didn't support the compromise at noon because she said she was concerned about a lack of standards, but voted for the bar-restaurant exemption later that night. She said she was conflicted.

"I don't think I reversed my decision. I think I got some things clarified," she said. "I feel that I stayed with the bill. I'm not happy with my vote and I'm not unhappy with my vote. It's a real awkward situation because I don't want to be anti-business and I don't want to be anti-public health."

In other action, the Assembly changed the penalties outlined in the code so a violation would be an infraction, not a misdemeanor. People would need to smoke 10 feet away from an entrance to a building and the Assembly would review the ordinance after one year.

*****

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



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