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Volunteers advocate for smoke-free workplaces, stronger vaping/e-cig laws

After five years of disappointment, the Alaska Cancer Action Network is hoping this is the year all workplaces in the state will be declared smoke-free.

Currently, laws regulating smoke-free workplaces are scattered across the state. Palmer went smoke-free three years ago, Anchorage about 15, Bethel in 1991. The cities of Kenai and Soldotna have laws banning smoking in businesses that serve food, but that leaves a lot of holes, says Johna Beech, of Kenai, lead volunteer for Alaska with the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Action Network.

“A lot of municipalities do have some kind of smoking legislation in regards to bars and restaurants — specifically restaurants, there’s a lot of bars that are still smoking. This also would apply to, I call them the ‘animal clubs’ — the Moose, the Elks, the Eagles. It also would apply to the veteran clubs,” Beech said.

Add pull-tab parlors and bingo halls to that list. Senate Bill 63, sponsored by District O Sen. Peter Micciche, would ban smoking in all workplaces all across the state.

“It’s places like Fairbanks Borough, Mat-Su Borough, Kenai Peninsula Borough, they don’t have health powers so it’s let up to the municipalities. Well, then we have all the outlying communities that aren’t covered. So it’s just kind of taking care of everybody at once,” Beech said.

The Alaska Cancer Action Network also supports SB 15. That would require retailers of e-cigarettes and vaping devices to obtain a tobacco endorsement from the state and face the same consequences for selling to minors that retailers of tobacco products currently face.

“The last compliance survey that was done found that 35 percent of Alaska vape shops sold to underage youths compared to only 5 percent of tobacco retailers, so it’s a pretty big gap. And at this point in time with the e-cigarettes there’s no consequence. You sell to a minor, ‘Oh, don’t do that,’ and then you still are able to keep selling. So that’s what we’re trying to do is just close that loophole,” Beech said.

The Alaska Cancer Action Network had its annual lobbying day Feb. 21. With the lobbying day in the books, local Cancer Action Network volunteers are getting ready for a Relay for Life kickoff event from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center. Relay teams raise money for the American Cancer Society. This year’s Relay will be June 1 at Skyview Middle School. Anyone wanting more information can attend the open house or contact Beech at the Kenai Chamber of Commerce at 283-1991.

Jenny Neyman has been the general manager of KDLL since 2017. Before that she was a reporter and the Morning Edition host at KDLL.