Alaskans speak up about bill to smother smoking

The Alaska Senate is again considering a bill to prohibit smoking in bars, restaurants and public places across Alaska.

Senate Bill 1 was the first piece of legislation proposed in the Senate last year, but it was sidelined by the need to address the state’s $3.7 billion budget deficit. On Monday morning, the Senate Finance Committee heard public testimony on the bill, with 45 people from across the state giving their opinions.

Opponents of the proposed ban said it would restrict personal and business freedom. “We are against Senate Bill 1 because we believe business owners have the right to make their own choices,” said Carmen Lunde of the Kodiak Cabaret, Hotel, Restaurant, and Retailers Association (CHARR).

Ban proponents – who significantly outnumbered opponents – said a smoking ban is a matter of workplace and public safety. Employees are forced to breathe smoky air, and there is no doubt that smoking causes cancer.

“Secondhand smoke is no different than any other workplace hazard we have laws against,” said Jenny Ohlendorff of Soldotna. “Signing this bill into law will protect all Alaska workers.”

Bill Ross of Anchorage, delivering an emotional speech, said his wife died in his arms from smoking-related cancer. Since then, he’s made it his duty to oppose smoking wherever possible.

“It is our right to engage in hazardous activities and behaviors, but it does not give the right to kill other people with the same behaviors,” he said.

The bill exempts fishing boats, private homes (excepting those used as day cares or senior care facilities) and long-haul trucks.

While Juneau, Anchorage and other Alaska cities have already restricted indoor smoking, some communities, including Kodiak, have voted not to.

“If the state moves forward, the state will invalidate the actions of those communities,” said Dale Fox, president of Alaska CHARR.

The bill puts e-cigarette use under the definition of smoking, effectively banning e-cigarette use indoors. There is an exemption allowing smoking in special rooms within tobacco stores and e-cigarette shops, but that exemption does not cover marijuana smoking in retail marijuana shops.

Fifth-grader Maureen Narus said by phone that she was in Fred Meyer when she met someone using an e-cigarette and puffing out a big cloud of vapor. Her mother told her to hold her breath while she walked by.

“I think that it is important that I have the right to protect my lungs in public places,” she said.

After the public hearing, MacKinnon said the bill would be set aside for the time being. On Monday afternoon, it did not appear on the calendar this week, and committee staff said it is uncertain when the bill will appear again.

If approved by the finance committee, SB1 will head to a vote of the full Senate. If approved there, it will go to the House.

• Contact reporter James Brooks at james.k.brooks@juneauempire.com.

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