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5:09 AM Tue, Nov. 20th

Tucson lawmaker will take smoking debate to Legislature<BR>

In the meantime, however, the leader of the opposing local smoking initiative, Proposition 201, maintains that a statewide ban on smoking would infringe on people's rights, just like Prescott's proposed smoking ban – only on a larger scale.

"It's still a freedom of choice issue," said Dave Michelson, the owner of The Palace in downtown Prescott, and the chairman of the Citizens for Fair Non-Smoking Laws. "I'm opposed to any restrictions put on the privileges of law-abiding citizens and businesses. Tobacco is not illegal."

Currently, Lopez said, she and a committee are working to "put the language together" for a bill that would require a "statewide smoke-free workplace."

Lopez said that means that smoking would be illegal in virtually all public places in the state, including restaurants and bars. And unlike Prescott's initiative, the ban in bars would not have a two-year delay to allow for owners to transition to the law. "There would be no delay in implementation," Lopez said.

Lopez acknowledged Monday that getting her bill through the state House and Senate will be an uncertain proposition. "At this point, we're borderline," she said of the support the bill has from legislators.

And the bill has had a less than enthusiastic response from some of the major medical advocacy groups. Lopez said the heart, lung, and cancer associations have been reluctant to support the proposed bill, because they fear that the legislative process could result in a weakened law.

But Lopez said she is working to guarantee that if the bill gets "watered down" in the Legislature, she will have the authority to pull it from consideration altogether.

She allowed, though, that she would have no ability to control some possibilities. "Somebody else could offer their own piece of legislation, and I would have no control over that," Lopez said.

And on the issue of how the state law would affect the casinos and bars on the Indian reservations across the state, Lopez said she is still looking for an answer.

Michelson maintains, however, that the reservation question should be an important issue for the state. He contends that the reservations would not have to comply with a statewide ban on smoking – a situation that would result in unfair competition for local establishments.

"We have a reservation a mile and a half up the road," Michelson said. He said a statewide ban on smoking would drive people who want to smoke to the reservations, and away from downtown establishments.

Lopez sees the reservation question as a "red herring" by those who oppose the statewide ban. She said she has heard of no unfair competition issues in California, New York or Delaware, which all have statewide smoking bans.

And Lopez sees no redundancy in working toward a statewide ban, when Prescott is considering a law of its own, and many other communities in the state already have laws in effect. "My goal is to get the state smoke-free, and my thought is that Prescott is a vital piece of that," she said. "Prescott's success can only bolster my effort."