Communities must 'opt-out' to keep public smoking legal

May 16, 2018

One of the bills the Alaska Legislature passed in its flurry of activity to adjourn Saturday was a statewide workplace smoking ban. Starting Oct. 1, pretty much any place that people work, it will be illegal to smoke.

The measure, Senate Bill 63, had been held up for years by Anchorage Republican Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux. She finally let it pass out of committee Saturday, but only with a provision that allows communities to opt out of the regulations.

“I have a hard time with it," said Johna Beech of Kenai. She is the lead state volunteer for the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Action Network. "You can’t opt out of seatbelts, you can’t opt out of DUI penalties, this is for safely of workers. So if we’re trying to create a safe work place, giving people the option to opt out, it doesn’t sit well with me, personal, Johna Beech, citizen. That was kind of a hard pill to swallow, but for the overall win of the bill, I’m okay with it.”

All communities are by default included under the new law, but if a community wants smoking work environments, they must take action to opt out by putting the question on the ballot for the residents of the area to vote on.

Even with that provision, seven legislators voted against the bill, including LeDoux, who sponsored the opt-out legislation. Despite that bit of watering down, Beech was still happy.

“It passed, I want to say, 32 in favor, seven opposed, and one was excused. So overwhelming positive response," Beech said. "Very, very excited about it. Like I say, we’ve been working on it five years, so it’s been a long time coming.”

Marijuana was also included in the workplace smoking ban. Even though it’s not currently legal to smoke it in public, Beech said the law is ready if and when it does become legal.

“We wanted to make sure we were still protecting employees of second hand smoke, be it traditional tobacco, e-cigarettes, vaping devices or marijuana, so that was the language put in there. The way it’s worded is ‘plant-based materials,’" she said. "So that way if the ABC Board decides to allow public consumption of marijuana we are still protecting those employees. So that we’re not having to go through this and try to make an amendment to a statewide bill.”

The bill’s sponsor, Soldotna Senator Peter Micciche, did not return phone calls seeking comment.