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Wed, Oct. 23

Group pushes to outlaw smoking at work

PRESCOTT – Prescott voters soon could face the decision many other Arizona communities have already dealt with: should smoking be illegal in the workplace?

If a group of local residents is successful with its initiative petition effort, the issue will be on the Nov. 4 city election ballot.

City Clerk Marie Watson reported that she issued a serial number on April 9 to allow the Taskforce to Eliminate Smoking in the Workplace to begin circulating petitions.

To get the issue on the general election ballot, the organization must get the signatures of at least 1,631 registered Prescott voters before July 7.

The proposal would be an amendment to the Prescott City Code, Watson said. The current code restricts smoking in public places to designated smoking areas. The code requires that employers provide smoking and non-smoking areas in their places of business.

Paul Baskin, the treasurer and co-leader of the effort, said the ordinance that the group hopes to get on the ballot would ban smoking in most workplaces in the city, including restaurants.

Bars would be exempt for the first two years of the ordinance, he said, to allow the bar owners to adapt their businesses to the law.

Baskin, a retired businessman who has lived in Prescott for about a year, is the co-leader of the effort, along with Dr. Robert Matthies. In February 2002, Matthies appeared before the Prescott City Council to push for an ordinance that would ban smoking in public places.

At that time, however, council members maintained that any such effort should start with the citizens – possibly through a voter initiative.

Baskin said the Taskforce to Eliminate Smoking in the Workplace formed about a year ago. After coming up with a plan about five or six months ago, the group began circulating the petitions during last week's Earth Day events. The effort acquired about 100 to 150 signatures that day, and Baskin hopes the group will get the signatures it needs to get the issue on the ballot.

Currently, he said, about 10 people are circulating the petitions. He is also distributing the petitions at some local doctors' offices.

Baskin sees the issue as one of public health. "Prescott has a lot of businesses where employees are working and subjected to second-hand smoke," he said. "Second-hand smoke is deadly."

Baskin said nine Arizona cities already have smoke-free ordinances, and five others are currently debating the issue. "This particular issue has been growing like wildfire," Baskin said.

Although some bar and restaurant owners in other communities have maintained that smoke-free ordinances hurt their business, Baskin said statistics indicate that smoke-free restaurants and bars actually bring people out who would otherwise stay at home to avoid smoky environ-ments.

"People who don't smoke begin to frequent places that they wouldn't go before," Baskin said.

And since the vast majority of Yavapai County residents are non-smokers, Baskin said the ordinance would be beneficial.

"The bottom line is this would be good for businesses, employees and customers," Baskin said.

And he disputed the claims that some people have made about smoke-free ordinances being an infringement of private property rights. "Restaurants and bars are heavily regulated already," he said.

He mentioned other laws, such as seatbelt and helmet requirements, which are already in effect solely for the protection of people's health and safety.

If the taskforce collects the required number of signatures by July 7, Watson said her department would begin the required verification process.

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