ANCHORAGE (KTUU) — Gov. Bill Walker signed a bill banning workplace smoking Tuesday at the Lucky Wishbone diner, an iconic Anchorage eatery famous for its fried chicken, burgers, shakes — and smoking ban.
In 1990, the Wishbone was the first restaurant in Alaska to ban smoking, and it happened when owner George Brown got fed up with his relatives dying of second-hand smoke. According to Walker, Brown and his wife Peggy acted after Northwest Airlines banned smoking on its flights, but the couple almost rescinded the ban when smoking customers stayed away.
The Browns have both died — not directly related to smoking — but Walker said that after they threatened to rescind the ban, people who appreciated clean air lined up to get in.
Sen. Peter Micciche, the author of the bill, Senate Bill 63, said he hoped that customers who appreciate clean air would flock to restaurants and bars and that they, and not the state, would enforce the law. The bill lists civil fines of between $50 and $300 for each violation.
“We had to do something and the very basic thing to do was the personal property right to be able to breathe smoke-free air in the workplace,” said Micciche, a Republican from Soldotna.
The bill affects about half the state currently without a smoking ban, and allows local governments to have as tough or tougher laws on their own books — something that Anchorage, Bethel and other communities have done.
The law also allows local communities to schedule a public vote to opt out of the ban.
“It doesn’t ban smoking at all, it just bans smoking in enclosed locations,” Walker said. “There’s exemptions for local municipalities to opt out if they choose to, through a process, as well as villages and tribes who would like to.”
The opt-out provision was inserted by Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux, an Anchorage Republican who nearly killed the measure this year in the House Rules Committee, which she chairs. With the opt-out clause, she said, she allowed the bill to come to House floor, though she was one of seven Republicans to vote against it in the House and five who opposed it in the Senate.
Micciche took pains to note that the bill had a libertarian nature — it doesn’t ban smoking, but allows anyone to go outside to smoke. It’s just that other workers and customers shouldn’t have to breathe second-hand smoke in a workplace anywhere in Alaska, he says.
“They have the freedom to swing their fist until it comes in contact with your nose, right? That’s essentially what it’s about. We’re just asking them to take it outside, and hopefully we will see an end to the adverse effects of second-hand smoke and the horrible end-of-life experiences for those that are subject to those exposures.”
Emily Nenon, the Alaska state director for government relations of the American Cancer Society, said at the bill signing that she intended to carefully watch whether any communities opt out of the law after it takes effect Oct. 1. She said she would oppose any such opt-out effort.
Nenon and representatives of nonprofits that fight cancer, heart disease and dirty air trekked to Juneau in droves to lobby for the bill, which passed the Senate 15-5 in 2017 and the House this year, 32-7, on May 12.