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8:48 AM Mon, Nov. 19th

The Great Prescott Smoke-out Smoking initiative debate will air on local television<BR>

PRESCOTT – Two sides faced off in a battle without directly attacking each other, and called on the public to declare a winner.

The Task Force to Eliminate Smoking in the Workplace and Citizens for Fair Non-smoking Laws are the two sides, and voters will choose one of them as the winner during November's election.

To help voters make informed decisions, a representative from each side met with Prescott City Councilman Bob Roecker Tuesday morning to tape a debate on the issue for several airings on Access 13's Prescott Today.

Prescott family physician Dr. Bob Matthies, who practices at Yavapai Regional Medical Center (YRMC), represented the Task Force to Eliminate Smoking in the Workplace, and Dave Michelson, owner of The Palace restaurant and bar on Whiskey Row in Prescott, represented the Citizens for Fair Non-smoking Laws.

To begin the debate, Roecker asked Matthies and Michelson to summarize the viewpoints of their initiatives.

Matthies said he originally hoped for a smoking ban in all public places, but realized that this definition was too broad and refined it to a ban on smoking in enclosed businesses where employees are present.

Michelson called the Citizens for Fair Non-smoking Laws ballot proposal a "freedom of choice initiative, for the business owners, the employees and the citizens," and said he and other local business owners started the initiative as a defense against the initiative to eliminate smoking in the workplace.

The City of Prescott "has always had a no-smoking ordinance," he said, adding that the Task Force to Eliminate Smoking in the Workplace wants to intensify the ordinance and make it more stringent.

According to City Attorney John Moffitt, "Prescott's current smoking code says no person can smoke in any enclosed public place or place of employment unless it is designated (by the owner) as a smoking area."

City code also requires non-smoking areas in business cafeterias and it prohibits smoking in city government buildings.

While Matthies cited the issue as a "community health issue," Michelson called it a freedom of choice issue.

"I'm not a doctor and you are," Michelson told Matthies, and therefore, he wouldn't argue with Matthies on the effects of second-hand smoke on non-smoking restaurant and bar patrons. But he added that people, including patrons and employees, choose whether to visit or work at a business that allows smoking.

Matthies countered that some of his patients have told him that in order to make a living and support their children they simply have to work at restaurants or bars that allow smoking.

"They're working in these places because they're stuck there," he said.

However, Michelson said 70 percent of Prescott businesses prohibit smoking in the workplace, so people who wish to work at such a place have many options. Michelson asked Matthies whether states should ban window washers from washing windows on high-rise buildings because of the hazard.

"You say it's hazardous," he said, "but it still doesn't matter because people are choosing to work there."

Michelson expressed his concern that businesses currently allowing smoking will lose customers if a ban takes place. He cited businesses closing in Tempe after a smoking ban passed.

Matthies said YRMC employees raised the question regarding smoking laws from a health perspective, not as an attack on bar and restaurant owners. He added that part of the loss of business in Tempe had to do with a mall opening in nearby Chandler, and was not necessarily because of the smoking ban.

Nevertheless, Michelson said, he fears that a smoking ban will destroy what he has been working to build for the last 38 years as a restaurant and bar owner. He does not believe the entire state of Arizona will enforce such a ban, and even if it did, the reservations (including one adjacent to Prescott) would get all the business because they would not enforce it.

"All the blood, sweat, tears and more hours than you can imagine," he said of his continuing efforts, "and to have someone else dictate to us how to run our businesses…"

On the other hand, Matthies said, "physicians not only in Prescott but throughout the U.S. are behind non-smoking workplaces."

He added that the ban will not take away smokers' rights, because they can simply step outside for a smoke. But the ban will give non-smokers the right to spend a more healthy evening at a restaurant or bar, without the effects of secondhand smoke.

This November, voters ultimately will decide between what Michelson calls freedom of choice and what Matthies defines as a community health issue.

The debate will air on Prescott Today on Access 13 at 6:30 and 9:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 29, 6:30 and 11:30 a.m. Wednesday, July 30, and 10:30 p.m. Thursday, July 31.