The Juneau Assembly is divided over anti-smoking advocates' lobbying efforts to make all bars and restaurant bars smoke-free in Juneau, members said Monday.
The Juneau Clean Air Coalition said during a Monday press conference it will lobby the Assembly to amend the city's clean indoor air ordinance. The coalition wants smoking banned in all bars and restaurant bars in Juneau. Bar owners are resisting those efforts, saying they will lose business and that they have the right to allow smoking in their establishments. The two sides squared off during a Juneau Chamber of Commerce luncheon Friday.
Assembly members Jim Powell and Dan Peterson said they would support smoke-free bars in the name of better health and economic parity.
"You need parity," Powell said. "Government shouldn't be in the position of putting some places over others."
Powell was referring to the current indoor clean air ordinance that exempts some restaurant bars. The owners of those restaurant bars argued the city shouldn't prohibit smoking in their establishments while allowing it in stand-alone bars. Powell said the Assembly's mistake was not working with the restaurant bar owners who were affected by the ordinance.
Assembly members Merrill Sanford and Marc Wheeler said they want to hear from the Smoking Ordinance Review Task Force. That committee will meet Jan. 8 and later make recommendations to the Assembly on whether to amend the ordinance. Former Mayor Sally Smith appointed the committee to review the ordinance after it took effect Jan. 1, 2002.
Assembly members Jeannie Johnson and Randy Wanamaker said they want more information from both sides before making a decision.
"From a public health perspective, it sounds like a good idea," Wanamaker said of the ban.
Coalition Chair Joan Cahill said the ordinance should be applied throughout the food and beverage industry in Juneau.
"When you have a law, apply it equally, consistently and fairly," Cahill said.
The coalition has collected 1,400 signatures on a petition that calls for "clean indoor air free from second-hand smoke in all workplaces and public places." Peterson and Mayor Bruce Botelho signed the petition before they took office in October.
Clay Wertheimer, a 10th-grade student at Juneau-Douglas High School, said many young people get their first jobs in the restaurant industry. Wertheimer, a member of Teens Against Tobacco Use, said he's too young to buy cigarettes, but old enough to be subjected to second-hand smoke in a restaurant.
The press conference was held at Chinook's Restaurant in the Goldbelt Hotel. That establishment went smoke-free after the ordinance took effect, said Joanne Wiita, director of marketing and sales for Goldbelt Corp. Wiita, speaking on behalf of General Manager Virgil Ward, said the restaurant has lost business since the ordinance took effect.
If the Assembly bans smoking in all bars and restaurant bars, Cahill said Chinook's business will likely increase because all bars and restaurant bars will be on a level playing field.
Tara Sidor can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.