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Trusted local news leader for Prescott area communities since 1882
3:39 AM Sun, Nov. 18th

Where there's smoke...<BR>Prescott ballot initiatives boil down to health vs. choice<BR>

Proposition 200 would ban smoking in virtually all public places in Prescott. Supporters say the issue is clear: get rid of smoking in bars and restaurants, and the community will be healthier. "Second-hand smoke kills," admonishes the bright yellow signs and banners that are scattered across the community.

"I believe government has the responsibility to protect the health and safety of the citizens," Dr. Robert Matthies, a family-practice doctor and co-leader of the drive for Proposition 200, said during a recent roundtable debate on the issue. "I've had a long-standing, profound interest in preventive medicine, and I encourage my patients to not only not smoke, but to not be in places where people smoke."

But on the other side is Proposition 201, which offers a less stringent option. Basically, the initiative would revise the current city code to require more prominent notification on whether businesses allow smoking. However, it would maintain business owners' rights to decide whether to allow smoking or not.

Proponents of Prop 201 say the issue comes down to one of freedom. Shouldn't bar and restaurant owners have the right to choose whether they will allow smoking in their places of business? advocates ask.

Campaign literature for Proposition 201 has featured pictures of patriotic icons, such as the American flag and an eagle, along with a reminder about "America's roots" – freedom of choice.

Dave Michelson, the owner of The Palace on Whiskey Row and one of the leaders of the Proposition 201 effort, maintains that the issue is "not about smoking; it's about freedom of choice. Who are you to decide for us?" he asked Matthies during the roundtable discussion.

'Polar opposites'

An official in Tempe, where voters approved a similar no-smoking ordinance in a hard-fought election more than a year ago, isn't surprised about the level of passion that has framed the debate in Prescott.

Indeed, Rod Keeling, the executive director of the Downtown Tempe Community, sees the debate on smoking as "a clash of cultures."

"Fundamentally," Keeling said, "you are dealing with polar opposites."

Prescott voters have the opportunity to choose between those two opposites in the general election. Ballots went out in the mail this week, asking voters to choose "yes" or "no" on the two initiatives. Voters have until Nov. 4 to return the ballots.

Origin of initiatives

Prescott is hardly unique in its current debate on smoking. A similar scenario has been playing out in communities across the country. The entire state of New York recently went non-smoking in public places, as did California and Delaware.

And Tucson legislator Linda Lopez visited Prescott in September to discuss a statewide effort to prohibit smoking in the workplace, which she plans to introduce in the state Legislature in the upcoming session.

Other Arizona communities, such as Flagstaff and Tucson, also have approved varying versions of the non-smoking restrictions. So far, Tempe's is the only one to extend the prohibition to bars as well as restaurants. Prescott's would be similar, but gives bars two years to comply.

In bringing the issue to Prescott, Matthies said the Taskforce to Eliminate Smoking in the Workplace was "joining the movement across the country."

He first tried to introduce the no-smoking issue in Prescott about a year and a half ago, when he appeared before the Prescott City Council to push for a city ordinance to ban smoking in the workplace.

That effort stalled, however, when council members maintained that the issue was best left up to the public.

That led Matthies and co-leader Paul Baskin to take out petitions this past spring to get Proposition 200 on the ballot.

Soon afterward, another group, the Citizens for Fair Non-smoking Laws, took out petitions of their own to counter the no-smoking initiative. Both sides filed their petitions in July to get the propositions on the November ballot.

In response to a question from roundtable moderator Paul Daly Wednesday about the reason for the second initiative, Michelson acknowledged that Proposition 201 emerged in response to the no-smoking initiative. "We did 201 to defend ourselves," Michelson said.

free enterprise

Along with their emphasis on freedom of choice, the proponents of Proposition 201 have also stressed the impact the no-smoking ordinance could have on business in Prescott restaurants and bars.

The economics was one of the issues that came up several times at Wednesday's roundtable debate between the two sides.

The supporters of Prop 201 say the no-smoking restrictions would be bad for business – especially since diners would have the choice of going to the Yavapai-Prescott Indian Reservation or Prescott Valley.

Rich Bates, vice president of operations for the Fork in the Road, which owns several restaurant/bars in downtown Prescott, maintains that the no-smoking initiative would interfere with free enterprise.