Smoke-free and still independent

Alaskans are known for their independent streaks. It’s why many of us live here. You can do pretty much anything you want to do in this state as long as it does not offend anyone. And even then, it takes offending more than a few to raise a ruckus, especially in a community as independent as Skagway.

Turning to the smoking debate, it is natural for those who smoke to cry foul when the local government tries to control where they can exercise their habit. Most have been smoking since their youth, and they like being around other smokers. They know it’s bad for them, but they feel they should be allowed to congregate where they will do no harm to anyone but themselves. It’s a hard habit to break. A few restaurant/bars cater to them and still allow smoking, as well as a private club or two.

The problem is, secondhand smoke carries, and it can harm others. The science proves it. The end result is there are many people who are driven away from these places that still allow smoking. These are people who would just as soon stay and spend money if they could breathe clean air. Many businesses figured this out on their own in the past few years and sent the smokers outside. Other establishments, in order to placate their non-smoking customers, tried installing smoke-eaters, but they just made the smoke a little less noticeable. One still comes out of these places smelling like smoke, and less likely to take their family inside.

Then there is the workplace environment. Employers are required to maintain a safe place to work. If that environment is unsafe, and someone is injured, then the employer is liable. Secondhand smoke is unsafe, so why would any responsible employer allow it in a workplace?

Skagway is surrounded by communities that have already taken bold steps to limit secondhand smoke. In fact, we are surprised it is not state law by now. When Colette Hisman bravely brought forth an ordinance last year to deal with Skagway’s problem, it was maligned by some at first, but steadily grew support. By the time it went before her fellow assembly members in January, an amended version was passed, unanimously. A 90-day grace period was added so effected establishments could make the necessary adjustments by tourist season. But some in the community still balked. A petition was circulated to put the ordinance before the voters. There is no harm in this, and now it is the voters’ turn to make a stand.

Old habits die hard, but healthy habits live much longer. It’s time to do the right thing, Skagway, and support Proposition 1 with a Yes vote to ratify the Secondhand Smoke Control ordinance on Thursday, Aug. 25. That’s right, this special election is on a Thursday.

Then, after it passes, Skagway will still have places where people can smoke, in designated smoking areas outside and out of harm’s way, and business will rebound inside the smoke-free environment. That’s what has happened in most places, even in my old home state, North Carolina, where they still grow tobacco and make cigarettes. People said a smoking control law wouldn’t pass there either. — WJB