A bill that would make smoking inside public buildings illegal in all areas of Alaska passed the Senate Thursday. A similar bill is making its way through the House of Representatives.
Senate Bill 1, also known as the “Take it Outside Act,” would extend smoking bans outside of boroughs and municipalities that already prohibit smoking inside public buildings, like restaurants and offices. The bill includes not only tobacco, but also marijuana and e-cigarette aerosol, even in some shops that sell the products.
Proponents of the bill applauded the vote of 15 to 5, citing the benefits to public health.
“Smoke-free air laws result in changes in the public norms regarding smoking, and can particularly influence children’s views on smoking, making them less likely to smoke,” said cardiologist Paul Ho, M.D., in a letter to the Senate Finance Committee on behalf of the American Heart Association. “Bill 1 would positively affect Alaska residents’ health, the state’s healthcare costs, and would benefit businesses which would no longer be impacted by the various costs associated with indoor smoking.”
Other Alaskans also wrote to legislators, asking them to reject the bill because of its potential effects on the e-cigarette, or vaping, industry. Some, like Kenai resident Steve Mapes, pointed to studies that show smokers who switched to vaping were more likely to quit smoking altogether than those who tried to first quit tobacco-based products.
“Vaping has saved Alaskans who used to smoke thousands of dollars and, because they are not painting their lungs with tar and filling their bloodstream with carbon monoxide, has had a tremendous positive impact on their lives,” Mapes said in his support letter. “It seems that this legislation session is about closing down this industry in Alaska or effectively regulating this healthier alternative out of existence.”
House Bill 328, SB 1’s twin, has been referred to the House Health and Social Services Committee. According to a statement from the American Cancer Society, if both bills pass Alaska would become the first state since 2012 to pass a “comprehensive statewide smoke-free law covering all workplaces.”