Senate proposes smoke-free workplaces

Senate Bill 63, a bill that proposes to extend the ban on smoking in workplaces, has made its way to the House Rules Committee. It has already passed through the Senate and is currently sitting in the committee to be considered for the floor vote.

Photo credit: Jian Bautista

Sen. Peter Micciche introduced the bill in February 2017. In his sponsor statement, he wrote, “SB 63 seeks to protect Alaskan employees from the adverse health effects of secondhand smoke by providing a statewide smoke-free workplace law for business and public places.”

While the bill does not take away a person’s right to smoke, it “simply asks smokers to ‘take it outside.'”

Terrence Robbins lives in Ketchikan and has been advocating for the smoking ban for years, even back when the bill was formerly introduced as SB 1 in January 2015.

“If you pass this, it’ll save lives,” Robbins said. “No doubt about it. Smoking rates drop in towns that have smoke-free workplaces laws.”

According to 2016 tobacco facts released by the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services, about 20 percent of Alaska adults are smokers.

Robbins has lost several family members to health-related complications due to smoking.

“I decided that I would try to do something,” Robbins said.

He went to the Ketchikan City Council to advocate a local smoke-free bill but was unsuccessful while facing opposition from the Alaska Cabaret, Hotel, Restaurant and Retailers Association. After being contacted by the American Cancer Society, Robbins began testifying for SB 1.

CHARR does not support SB 63. Pete Hanson, president and CEO, says that businesses have already gone in the non-smoking direction on their own.

“A huge majority of hospitality businesses are already non-smoking and most have gone non-smoking on their own,” Hanson said. “The remaining businesses that do allow smoking — they’re going to get there at some point. This has been a trend over the last 30 years, really.”

SB 63 includes amendments that prohibit smoking in enclosed areas in public places, such as entertainment venues and retail stores, or outside within 10 feet of bar and restaurant entrances. Not only does it contain extensive language about the types of buildings and public places that an individual cannot smoke in or near, but it also categorizes vapor products and e-cigarettes.

Alex McDonald, owner of Ice Fog Vapor in Fairbanks, quit smoking four years ago. He says that vapor products should be an alternative to tobacco products, referencing the United Kingdom and New Zealand’s legalization of e-cigarettes and vaping.

“If other countries are having this type of success, why would we pass a bill that’s contrary to their results?” McDonald said.

Jennifer Fisher, who lives in North Pole, switched from tobacco products to vapor products. She had been using tobacco since she was about 9 years old.

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“I’ve done everything I could to try to quit and I wasn’t able to until I started vaping,” Fisher said.

Fisher’s ex-husband used to smoke cigarettes, though not indoors, and her daughter, who was 4 or 5 years old at the time, had breathing problems. Once he stopped smoking and started vaping, Fisher says, her daughter stopped needing treatments or an inhaler.

“The senator and everyone fighting the bill both have the same goal in mind, you know, want to help people and help improve public health. But I’d like to see a sensible bill that [helps do] that,” McDonald said.

SB 63 was referred to the House Rules Committee on Jan. 26 and it is unclear when or if it will be scheduled for a floor vote.

Mike Mason, press secretary for the Alaska House Majority Coalition, had no comment on the scheduling of the vote.


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