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Wed, July 17

State propositions replay local 2003 smoking debate

PRESCOTT ­ A drama similar to the one that Prescott voters participated in three years ago over smoking restrictions now is playing on a statewide stage.

Two proposed state propositions ­ 201 and 206 ­ will pose questions to Arizona voters that should be familiar to Prescott voters: whether to ban smoking in virtually all public places in the state, or whether to allow bar owners to make the call for their own establishments.

In 2003, local voters also considered two dueling smoking initiatives, and ended up narrowly approving an outright ban of smoking in most pubic places, including bars and restaurants. After the end of a two-year exemption for bars, the full restrictions went into effect in the fall of 2005.

The two smoking issues on the Nov. 7 ballot include:

• Proposition 201 ­ the "Smoke-Free Arizona Act" ­ which would impose statewide restrictions that would be almost identical to those already in effect in Prescott, banning smoking in all restaurants, bars and other workplaces.

Like Prescott's law, the proposition would allow for a number of exceptions: retail tobacco stores that are physically separated and independently ventilated; veterans and fraternal clubs that are not open to the public; hotel rooms designated as smoking rooms; and outdoor patios.

While most of the requirements would be similar to Prescott's law, the statewide proposal, which has the support of the American Heart, Cancer, and Lung associations, would come with one obvious difference. It would increase the state tax on cigarettes from $1.18 per pack to $1.20 per pack. The revenue from that tax increase would go to the Arizona Department of Health Services to pay for enforcement and education costs.

• Proposition 206 ­ the "Arizona Non-Smoker Protection Act" ­ which would prohibit smoking in most public places and places of employment, except for bars, retail tobacco stores, private veteran and fraternal clubs, hotel rooms designated as smoking rooms, and outdoor patios.

The proposition, which has the support of the tobacco industry and the Arizona Licensed Beverage Association, also would prohibit children from entering a bar that allows smoking, and it would prevent cities, towns and counties from imposing future laws relating to smoking in bars and retail tobacco stores.

Prescott City Attorney Gary Kidd noted that while Proposition 201 would result in few changes locally, Proposition 206 would overturn a portion of the existing city law by allowing smoking in bars and in physically separated parts of restaurants that serve alcohol and have their own ventilation system.

Should both of the propositions win a majority, the one with the most "yes" votes would prevail, Kidd said.

For the two main spokesmen in the 2003 Prescott smoking debate, the issues in the state debate remain the same.

Dr. Robert Matthies, a family-practice doctor who helped to spearhead the successful Prescott initiative three years ago, said he continues to view the matter in terms of health.

"My perspective is very simple," Matthies said, adding that he supports Proposition 201 "for the health of the employees and the patrons." He maintains that the unfiltered second-hand smoke is more dangerous even than the primary filtered smoke that the smoker inhales.

Along with his support for 201, Matthies voices some frustration with the organizers of 206, who, he said, are obscuring the real issue. "I think they are being intentionally deceptive," Matthies said, referring to anti-201 commercials that maintain that the proposition will increase taxes to pay for enforcement. Matthies stresses that Proposition 201 would impose a 2-cent increase in cigarette taxes, not an increase for the general taxpayer, which he said the commercial implies.

Dave Michelson, the owner of The Palace restaurant and bar on Whiskey Row, was a vocal supporter of the local initiative that would have allowed local bars and restaurants to choose whether to allow smoking.

Michelson continues to maintain that the business owner should have the right to decide what is best for his business. "206, in my opinion, is more fair, because it gives the bar owners the right to choose," he said.

Even so, he allowed that Proposition 206 likely would have no impact on his business and others like his, because the proposition would require bars to be totally separate from restaurants ­ an option that Michelson said "wouldn't make sense for me."

But, he added, a change that would allow smoking in bars would be "good for the local hospitality industry," because it would bring customers who want to smoke back to Prescott.

Indeed, the economics of the initiatives and propositions have played a major role in the debates, raising the question of whether a smoking ban is good or bad for business.

After nearly a full year of the local bar smoking ban, Prescott Finance Director Mark Woodfill reports mixed results in taxable sales. While total taxable sales for the 16 bars and restaurants that previously allowed smoking is up 3.16 percent over the same 10 months of this past year, Woodfill noted that about six of those establishments reported a loss during those months.

"Some are doing very well" ­ with growth of 20 percent to 22 percent over last year, said Woodfill. But at the same time, some of the establishments are showing a downturn of as much as 27 percent.

Because of the large disparity in revenues and profits, Woodfill said, "it's hard to do any meaningful analysis."

Woodfill pointed out that state law prohibits the city from revealing the taxable sales figures of specific businesses.

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