Empire editorial: Fresh air for Juneau

Posted: Friday, December 28, 2007

Everyone should know the costs of smoking by now: health problems, addiction, pricey packs, cancer.

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On Jan. 2, there will be some new costs in Juneau when the final phase of the city's smoking ban kicks in and forbids lighting up in bars, taverns and private clubs. Smoking could lead to fines of $200 for bar owners and $50 for individuals.

That might be annoying for some people. Some will call it an intrusion, a violation of liberties, an inconvenience.

But many Juneau nonsmokers will breathe a sigh of relief - and not cough while doing it.

We think it's appropriate that Alaska's capital would join the 17 states that have banned indoor use of a substance believed to harm not only the people who use it, but also the people near the people who use it. We look forward to experiencing nightlife without being completely saturated in the miasma of tar and nicotine.

Many bar owners said they fear the effects of the ban, that it might drive away customers.

What will smokers do? We don't picture them skulking away to a hideaway within some abandoned mine shaft on Mount Roberts. We see them socializing in the fresh, damp spaces under awnings, inhaling toxins with the same fraternity they enjoyed on the bar stools.

Meanwhile, an entirely different breed of creature will emerge from the over-priced apartments and hemlock forests of this region. We'll see the appearance of social drinkers who avoided bars because of the stench of stale smoke.

At least one drinker reported the smell in her hair and skin even two days after a night on the town - and that's after bathing. And remember, she has dollars for consumption, for tipping, for sharing. Maybe we will see her and her friends in a bar next month. It just might mean more customers and cash for bar owners.

Smoking is already banned in restaurants, most workplaces, health care facilities, gyms, bowling alleys, bus shelters, government buildings and commercial passenger vehicles. The ordinance will prohibit smoking within 10 feet of any entrance, open window or ventilation system intake of any building.

The people still have a couple of days to smoke up indoors.

The changes will be easy to get used to, especially for nonsmokers. As for the smokers, we think the drawbacks for them will be fairly light compared to the benefits for bar employees and patrons.

Some governmental decisions leave clouds of smoke. But this latest ordinance will make the air clearer.

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