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Sitka already has an ordinance that prohibits smoking in places of employment. But bars and private clubs are exempted. Proposition 2 on the October 5th municipal ballot would remove that exemption.


That means four establishments in the city – the Pioneer Bar, Ernie’s Old Time Saloon, the Moose lodge and the American Legion – would be smoke free.


“Of the four locations you mentioned, all of them share walls, doorways, air ventilation systems and whatnot with either retail spaces, areas that are intended for families and kids, or residential spaces,” said Ryan Kauffman, part of the Sitka Alliance for Health, which is promoting the change in the ordinance.


He says approving it would clarify language and support the health of employees and patrons at those establishments.


Will Swagel disagrees.


“I think the proposed new law is very extreme and intolerant,” he said.


Swagel has been a vocal opponent of the measure since it first appeared before the Assembly in the spring.


 “I don’t think smokers have a right to smoke everywhere, but I also don’t think the most sensitive and the most intolerant among us have the right to assume that every single public place is open to them,” Swagel said. “I don’t like loud music. It hurts my ears. It may be damaging the hearing of every person who is there. But I don’t insist that no business be able to play loud music.”


Kauffman and other proponents say it’s about more than patrons. They say second hand smoke is harming the employees of those businesses, and that people shouldn’t have to harm themselves in order to have a job. But some local bartenders have told Raven News and have testified publicly that they choose to work in those environments and that they could find another place if they were bothered by the smoke. Kauffman says they don’t necessarily speak for all bartenders everywhere, or future employees.


“I made a couple phone calls myself to places like Anchorage – Darwin’s Theory up there – and talked to bartenders and barmaids up there,” he said. “They were all kind of singing the praises of the changes. They weren’t too sure, they were apprehensive about it before it happened. But when they looked back they all viewed it as a really positive thing.”


Swagel said there are other ways to improve workplace environments.


“If you’re worried about bar workers’ health,” he said, “why not use some of the grant money to work with these four businesses to improve the air quality without completely banning smoking? That would be better for everybody and I’m sure nobody would complain.”


During debate at the Assembly table in March, April and May, bar owners and staff said they feared for a loss in business if they had to ban smoking.


Swagel cited a recent smoking ban in Wisconsin and Michigan that extends to hotel rooms. He said as a smoker, he’d avoid visiting those states.


“Twenty percent of Americans smoke and many families contain at least one person who smokes,” he said. “Do you want them writing off Sitka as a vacation, business, or convention destination that is intolerant of smokers?”


Kauffman says those fears aren’t supported by evidence.


“‘No peer-reviewed study using objective indicators such as sales tax revenue, and employment levels, found an adverse economic impact on smoke free laws in restaurants and bars,’” he said, reading from a Surgeon General’s report.


He elaborated: “Across the board it’s shown that when businesses in the hospitality industry – bars, hotels, restaurants – go smoke free, they see no economic effect or they see a positive economic effect.”

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