Alaska Legislature approves statewide workplace smoking ban

Senate Bill 63, otherwise known as the “Take It Outside” bill, was approved by the Alaska House of Representatives with a 32-7 vote on May 12.

The bill, written by Sen. Peter Micciche, prohibits smoking in workplaces across Alaska, such as restaurants, bars and other businesses, and even includes public transportation like taxis. Regulations also include the use of both tobacco and vapor products. This means that e-cigarettes and vapes also cannot be used in a workplace.

SB 63 had gone to the floor for a vote after months of sitting in the House Rules Committee, where Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux, the chairwoman, opposed its progression.

Emily Nenon, Alaska government relations director for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, said that the statewide ban is a “huge step forward” for Alaska. The organization has been working with Sen. Micciche since his initial efforts to pass a smoke-free workplace bill, which started six years ago.

Approximately half of Alaska’s population has this type of smoke-free protection, including Anchorage and Juneau.

Alaska’s current state law prohibits smoking in a number of places, such as public government meeting rooms, hospitals, childcare facilities and both public and private elementary and secondary schools.

“It’s a huge step forward for protecting people in the half of the state that doesn’t have that local level protection,” Nenon said.

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The ban enacted by SB 63 will help create a uniform standard across the state.

“People do understand that everybody has the right to breathe smoke-free air,” Nenon said.

Terrence Robbins has been advocating for smoking regulations for several years and is glad to see that the bill is on its way to Gov. Bill Walker’s desk.

“I’m just thrilled. It’s been a lot of work. I’ve been working on this for at least five years, if not six,” Robbins said.

“It’s just been frustrating the whole time, you know. When you take a civics class in high school, you’re taught how a bill works and how it gets passed,” he added. “Then when you go to Juneau, you find out that that’s not how it works at all.”

There is an amendment in the revised version of the bill, approved by Rep. LeDoux, that allows municipalities to opt out of the ban via voting process. Robbins hopes Alaskans won’t go that route.

“People shouldn’t be able to opt out of public health. It’s a statewide smoke-free ‘Take It Outside’ bill,” Robbins said.

Pete Hanson, president and CEO of the Alaska Cabaret, Hotel, Restaurant and Retailers Association, does not expect the opt-out to be implemented, despite the organization’s position against the bill.

CHARR has opposed SB 63, Hanson said, because businesses have been able to go smoke-free on their own without a statewide ban. He also said that the bill’s approval is unsurprising, but there will be “winners and losers” when it is signed into effect.

“You’re going to have some businesses that lose business over this, have some businesses that gain business,” Hanson said.

Nenon said the bill does not tell people that they can or cannot smoke.

“This is all about protecting people’s right to breathe. We always say ‘it’s not about the smoker, it’s about the smoke,'” Nenon said. “You often hear this called the ‘Take It Outside’ bill. This isn’t telling anybody they can’t do any particular thing. It’s just about doing things in a way that doesn’t hurt others.”

The Alaska legislature has adjourned their session and SB 63 has been passed on to the governor’s office. Gov. Walker, who wrote a congratulations to Sen. Micciche and a thank you to the legislature on Twitter, is expected to sign the bill.

If signed, the bill will go into effect on Oct. 1.