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For fourth year in a row, Alaska Legislature considers bill to make all workplaces smoke-free

By Liz Raines Photojournalist: Cale Green - 7:46 PM February 21, 2017

Only about half of Alaskans are guaranteed a smoke-free workplace. That’s because Alaska is one of just 15 states that does not have a statewide ban. The American Cancer Society has been pushing to change state law for years. Now, a proposal introduced in the Senate Friday has given the organization new hope.

“It’s kind of a plea for help ultimately for a number of Alaskans,” said Dean Gustafson of Fairbanks, a city that still allows smoking in bars and restaurants.

Gustafson is one of 14 volunteers with the American Cancer Society that flew to Juneau Tuesday to meet with lawmakers on Senate Bill 63. Having worked in places that allowed smoking, Gustafson says the discussion is personal.

“Negative thoughts were always in the back of my mind, my health,” Gustafson said of the three years he spent working around second-hand smoke. “And not only that, I have a son, I’m a father, and going to pick up my kid and you know, my son would say that I smelled like cigarettes.”

That ultimately drove Gustafson to quit, but some of his colleagues couldn’t afford to make that same choice.

“I don’t think people should have to choose between getting a paycheck, but sacrificing their health,” Gustafson said.

According to the American Cancer Society, 69 percent of Alaskans support a statewide ban on smoking in the workplace. So why is it so hard to pass a bill?

Last year, a measure by Sen. Peter Micciche came close. It passed the Senate, but it died in the House Judiciary Committee. At the time, Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux was chair of the committee. LeDoux opposed the bill and never allowed a hearing.

As chair of the House Rules Committee this year, LeDoux decides which bills go to the House floor for a vote. Micciche hopes she’ll let the measure through.

“If the bill makes it to the floor, on the House side, we believe the bill will pass with a very handy margin,” Micciche said.

When asked whether she would let the measure onto the House floor for a vote this year, LeDoux told KTVA she was swamped with committee meetings and could not answer the question.

Members of LeDoux’s House majority say they’re ready to hear it.

“Obviously there’s some details about it that need to be worked out, but I think overall, it’s a good bill, and I would imagine we’re going to look at it again,” said Rep. Adam Wool, of Fairbanks.

“I support the smoke-free workplace initiative because it affects the health of all Alaskans, and look forward to hearing SB 63,” said Rep. Ivy Spohnholz, who chairs the Health and Social Services Committee in the House.

Micciche’s office requested a first hearing on the bill in the Senate Health and Social Services Committee Tuesday. Micciche says he’s hopeful it will move over to the other legislative body quickly.

KTVA 11’s Liz Raines can be reached via email or on Facebook and Twitter.

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