The Kenai Peninsula along with the rest of Alaska will not collectively become smoke-free, at least this year.
The “Take it Outside Act,” or SB1, sponsored by Sen. Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, that would have banned the use of tobacco products including e-cigarettes in the workplace statewide was blocked by Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux, R-Anchorage during the legislative session. Some believe there is still a future for the bill.
“There is a clear public mandate for smoke-free workplace protections statewide,” said Emily Nenon, Alaska government relations director for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network. “There is also broad support for increasing tobacco taxes. Both issues serve to protect health and reduce healthcare costs.”
The Cancer Action Network along with Alaska’s chapter of the American Lung Association, the American Heart Association, the Alaska Native Health Board, among others, collected nearly 1,000 resolutions from businesses and other organizations supporting the smoke-free legislation throughout Alaska.
The “Take it Outside Act” was introduced for the first time in 2014, and made it through two of the three necessary Senate committees, but not onto the floor for a final vote, she said. This time around, the Senate version passed in the Senate and both the Senate and House versions moved through the House until LeDoux stalled both bills by refusing to schedule them in the House Judiciary Committee, she said.
“There was nowhere else for the smoke-free bill to go because the committee chair was holding up the process,” Nenon said.
Sen. Johnny Ellis, D-Anchorage, amended the smoke-free act and tacked it onto a bill that was sponsored by LeDoux on the last night of the regular session, Nenon said. LeDoux withdrew her House bill before it was put to a vote, she said.
LeDoux said believes going smoke-free should be a community decision.
“Why shouldn’t it be a community decision?” she said. “Why not decide in our own communities what to regulate or not, which is how we do it with marijuana or alcohol. Why should tobacco be any different?”
LeDoux added that she is a non-smoker, and not against banning tobacco products in general. She said she has spoken to business owners on the topic who believe the market should be a factor in the decision for a municipality in going smoke-free.
“In other words, if you want to go into a bar and smoke, people can vote with their feet,” she said.
Nenon said she heard other officials mention the importance of local control, but community regulation is not always an option.
“Legislators know that many local areas around the state, including the Kenai Peninsula Borough, do not have the (health) power to enact smoke-free workplace laws at the local level,” she said.
LeDoux said while some areas could not immediately pass restrictive legislation, gaining that authority is not impossible.
Had SB1 passed it would have prohibited smoking in and around all public spaces including marine vessels operating as a shore-based fisheries business, entertainment venues, paid child care residences, retailers, airports and educational facilities among many others. It would have been largely enforced through fines and public education.
“For the smoke-free workplaces bill, once people understand that this is not banning any activity, but simply asking people to take it outside, most people are fine with that,” Nenon said.
In a survey of 800 registered voters conducted by the Cancer Action Network between Dec. 30, 2015, and Jan. 7, 2016, 69 percent said they would strongly favor a comprehensive smoking law, and 72 percent said they would somewhat or strongly favor that law include e-cigarettes.
A related piece of legislation, SB 133, that was approved by Gov. Bill Walker and would tax tobacco products, including electronic smoking devices, to 100 percent of the wholesale cost also failed to gain enough traction this session, died in its first House and Senate committees.
Reach Kelly Sullivan at email@example.com.