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Palmer goes smoke-free, with 61.5 percent voting for ban

Laurel Andrews
Courtesy Indi Samarajiva

Smokers in Palmer will have to step outside to have a cigarette next year. A proposed smoking ban in the city was approved by voters on Tuesday, according to Palmer election results, passing with 61.5 percent of voters supporting a ban on smoking in public places.

All told, 735 people voted on the ordinance -- with 452 people voting yes, and 283 people no on the ban.

Palmer, a community of around 6,000 people 40 miles north of Anchorage, has considered a smoking ban before. In 2011, the city council voted down an ordinance 4-3. David Cheezum, chairman at Smokefree Palmer, testified at the hearings. While he's disappointed the city council didn't take the initiative, he credits the work of myraid volunteers spearheading the effort to put the proposal on the ballot.

Some small businesses, in particular bars where smoking is now permitted, fear that the ban will harm their business.

Christopher Cox, the owner of Klondike Mike’s Dance Hall in Palmer, calls the smoking ban “tragic,” and “truly unfair. Ninety-five percent of my customers smoke.” Now, people who “don’t’ even go in my business” have dictated laws that directly affect his establishment, he says.

Cox also owns the Carousel Lounge in Anchorage. He says that when Alaska's biggest city went smoke-free in 2007, his business lost $20,000 a year. Now, he is bracing for similar losses in Palmer. “Maybe they can lower my taxes,” he says.

Jenny Olendorff with the Alaska Tobacco Control Alliance said she was “very excited” about the passage of the ordinance. “Everyone deserves the right to breathe smoke-free air,” she says.

“We want a generation of youngsters that are tobacco free,” and banning smoking in public workplaces is a proven strategy, she said. She also notes that studies indicated that the financial impact on businesses over the long-term turns out to be either neutral or positive.

Cheezum said he’s “proud” of the community. “Palmer is going to stand out as the place that did the right thing,” he says. But, he adds, “It should not stop here. We need to make this a statewide effort,” through legislation passed in Juneau.

Twenty-seven states have full smoking bans. Alaska law only limits smoking in medical offices, hospitals, government buildings, elevators, day-care facilities and schools, leaving communities to enact full-on smoking bans. Anchorage and Juneau have smoking bans on the books, as so do some smaller communities, including Nome in the northwest and Unalaska in the Aleutian islands.

Palmer's ban will go into effect Jan. 2, 2013. Read the entire ordinance, here.

Contact Laurel Andrews at laurel(at)alaskadispatch.com