Walker signs Alaska workplace smoking ban
A ban on smoking in workplaces across Alaska is now the law of the land, after being signed by Gov. Bill Walker.
Walker put his pen to Senate Bill 63 Tuesday morning, calling it "a wonderful bill, just a tremendous bill" at the Lucky Wishbone restaurant in downtown Anchorage.
The bill, sponsored by state Sen. Peter Micciche (R-Soldotna), protects Alaskans by ensuring smoke-free workplaces and public places across the state. The Lucky Wishbone was the first business in Anchorage to go smoke-free more than 25 years ago, on April 19, 1990.
"This is always a place in my heart," Walker said. "I wanted to do this and I wanted to have George Brown sitting next to me, and I know he's right here with us."
Harold George Brown, best known by his middle name, started the Lucky Wishbone diner in 1955. It's since become the oldest single-family-owned restaurant in Alaska. George died at the age of 96 at the beginning of the year.
"1990 was a real tough year for my family and the employees of the Lucky Wishbone," Brown's daughter, Pat Heller said. "Dad and Mom had lost so many friends to cancer and lung disease."
Brown's grandmother died from lung cancer after having never smoked in her life. She contracted it through secondhand smoke.
"The final blow was when he lost his mother," Heller said. "So he decided he'd had enough and wasn't going to contribute to any more smoking related deaths. Mother was really worried and didn't want to lose business, her employees or customers."
When some customers heard of the Lucky Wishbone's smoking ban, they said they'd never come back.
"My parents did it anyway; it was a very bold move, even more bold back in those days," Heller said. "At first business was affected but then it got better. Younger families started coming in and they felt secure and safe with their breathing by not taking in other people's smoke."
Betty MacTavish from Kodiak made the trip to Anchorage for the special signing. After continuous bouts of pneumonia, Betty went to the doctor. X-rays revealed that Betty had small black spots on her lungs.
"I never smoked but my husband Larry did," MacTavish said. "I was told I had smoker's lung and got it from secondhand smoke."
One year after Betty was diagnosed, her husband Larry passed away from lung cancer.
"No one has to have lungs like mine," MacTavish said. "No one has to doe like my Larry did. We can do something about this and be a healthy Alaska."
Under the new bill, which will go into effect on Oct. 1, employees across Alaska can expect to work without suffering from secondhand smoke.
"We call this the 'Take It Outside Act,' because it really is just as simple as that," said Emily Nenon, with the American Cancer Society's Cancer Action Network. "This has been a long time coming -- deep breath, everybody take a deep breath."
Senate Bill 63, passed by the Legislature earlier this year, extends an existing ban on smoking in public workplaces and public areas to private employers. The measure follows local bans already enacted by communities covering more than half the state’s population.
"We're not putting a regulation on smoking, just asking people to take it outside the workplace," Micciche said. "Our children hopefully will have no knowledge of what it's like to suffer the debilitating effects of secondhand smoke in the workplace."
Like any bill there was some pushback. The bill includes provisions for local communities and tribes to opt out if they don't wish to be smoke-free.
"They can opt out with a positive vote from the people," Walker said. "Organized tribes can opt out in their region and villages. Again, it would require a public vote to do that. It's not the heavy hand of government coming and slamming down necessarily; it does give local options."
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