A victory! (of sorts) for smokers in Sitka, Alaska!
When a local health group tried to shut down the last four places where smoking is still allowed indoors – the Pioneer Bar, Ernie’s, the American Legion and the Moose – smokers and even many non-smokers rebelled.
They turned out to public meetings to speak against the restrictive new law, signed petitions to support keeping the last few “smokers’ refuges” open and wrote a variety of thoughtful (and often funny) letters to the local newspaper.
The result was that the issue is being placed on the October municipal ballot. Sitkans rejected an all encompassing no-smoking law and passed the present law – with its four exceptions – in 2005.
One of the best letters was written by Bill Paden, which is reprinted below. Bill is a former member of our city’s governing assembly and he sure knows how to make his case!
This is how Bill countered the claims of the anti-smoking people that most cities in the U.S. had adopted uncompromising “smoke-free” ordinances:
At the last Assembly meeting when the vote was taken to either kill the issue of changing the current smoking ordinance or passing it on to another reading it was passed on, barely. Three members voting against the changes, three solidly for and one squarely on the fence. About as close to 50/50 as you can get.
Public testimony was about the same, half for and half against. Folks who are all for making Sitka completely non smoking would have us believe that “most of the rest of the country” has gone non smoking and Sitka is playing catch up. I checked Wikipedia for smoking laws around the country and guess what. Most of the good ole USA is just about like us, 50/50.
26 states have passed non smoking laws. 21 of those exempt tobacconists, 12 exempt cigar bars, 7 exempt private clubs like the American Legion and the Moose Club, 9 exempt casinos, 7 exempt small businesses. 7 states of the 26 with state wide non smoking laws exempt stand alone bars like Ernie’s and the P Bar.
The remaining 24 states have not passed non smoking bans and most seem satisfied to leave it up to communities. Oklahoma passed a law that pretty much leaves it up to individuals and prohibits communities and counties from passing anything stricter. Calabasas, California passed a law that prohibits smoking everywhere but a few designated outdoor locals and is reported to have the strictest law in the country. I believe that Sitka would be right up there with Calabasas if the current proposal passes.
Wikipedia cited 386 “localities” some cities and some counties that passed their own laws. Of those 386, 203 ban smoking in stand alone bars and private clubs. 172 allow smoking in those 2 places and 11 locals have completely repealed their smoking laws and apparently given up on the whole mess. Huh, 203 against and 183 that allow plus 11 that have thrown their hands up bringing that number to 194, seems to be pretty much 50/50 across the nation.
All this said, I believe that it is just too close for the Assembly to call and I for one want the opportunity to vote on this issue. The Assembly needs to give the people of Sitka the right to choose at the next regular election.
Good job, Bill!