Sourdough Bar Ashtray

A motion to put a smoking ban in front of city voters this fall failed during Thursday’s Ketchikan City Council meeting.

The debate was between freedom of choice and public health. Choice won.

The City Council heard from four business owners or managers, all opposed to the idea of a citywide smoking ban. Two other citizens spoke in favor of the idea.

Donna Luther said that everyone knows smoking isn’t healthy, but it’s a legal choice business owners and their patrons can make for themselves. She notes that the trend toward smoke-free is gaining momentum without government intervention.

The City Council last considered – and rejected – a smoking ban in 2004.

“Since that time, 15 additional eating or drinking places have gone smoke-free,” Luther said. “That would make a total of 31 hospitability businesses that are currently smoke-free by their own choice, leaving approximately 12 smoking hospitality businesses in our community. All of which you must be 21 years old to enter.”

Jack Duckworth had a different opinion on the issue. He said government regulations that save lives are a good idea, and 49,000 Americans die each year from second-hand smoke.

“And the problem with it, it’s not like if I walk into a bar where there’s smoking I’m going to drop dead. I’m going to drop dead in 20 years,” he said. “So when people are young they don’t see what’s coming down the road. They go because their girlfriend goes. They go because they like to dance. And then they pay that price in the long run.”

During Council discussion of the issue, Council Member Marty West suggested that the city let voters decide. Her suggestion was supported by Council Member Matt Olsen, who said he originally agreed with the bar owners, but changed his mind.

“The cost of smoking to our society is more than just my choice,” Olsen said. “The health costs, the health-care costs, the cost on infrastructure is just phenomenal.”

The rest of the Council, though, disagreed. West’s motion to place a ballot proposition in front of voters in October failed, with only West and Olsen voting in favor.

Also Thursday, the Council agreed to place a bond package on the October ballot for city voters to consider. The city’s current bonding authority expires this summer, and city officials say there still are numerous projects that need to be completed. An ordinance with details about the bond package will be prepared for a future Council meeting.