Activists want towns to have say in no-smoking laws
WATERBURY, Conn. -- Anti-smoking activists are planning another effort aimed at repealing language in a 1993 state law that banned cities and towns from enacting their own smoking laws.
The American Cancer Society, the American Lung Association and physicians' groups have tried unsuccessfully for the past several years to get state legislators to change the law. This year, they are asking municipal officials for their help.
"We are undertaking a municipal grassroots initiative in order to generate support for legislation to allow municipalities to regulate smoking," said Lisa Winkler, an American Cancer Society spokeswoman.
If the effort succeeds, cities and towns would be able ban smoking in all public places, including restaurants, bars and bowling alleys.
Winkler attended the Northwestern Connecticut Council of Governments meeting in Warren last week to garner local officials' support. The group - which includes the first selectmen of Canaan, Cornwall, Falls Village, Kent, Roxbury, Salisbury, Sharon, Washington and Warren - agreed to support the initiative.
Winkler said the American Cancer Society will try to reach officials in every city and town this year.
The 1993 state law prohibited smoking in public places and broadened restrictions on smoking in government buildings, health care facilities, schools, elevators and parts of retail food stores and restaurants.
But the act did not allow cities and towns to pass more stringent smoking regulations.
"I think it's a home rule issue," Winkler said. "It's bringing it back to the individual level so you have the right to make that decision based on the needs and wants of your community.
Some members of the Connecticut Restaurant Association have declined to ban smoking at their establishment because of the potential affect business.
Winkler said the motivation is public health. Secondhand smoke causes heart disease, irritates asthma and other respiratory conditions, impairs blood circulation and causes approximately 3,000 deaths annually nationwide, according to the American Cancer Society.
State Sen. Andrew Roraback, R-Goshen, said the issue raises different philosophical questions.
Last year, Roraback offered an amendment that would have excluded bowling alleys from regulations. Roraback said he was concerned about a bowling alley in Torrington, Sky Top Lanes, where the owner worried all his bowling teams would go to another town if Torrington adopted an ordinance banning smoking in public places.
"I'm sympathetic to the notion that communities ought to be trusted with making rules for the communities," Roraback said. "But whenever this issue comes to mind, I think of the bowing alley owner in Torrington and the fear he has that different rules in different communities could take business away from him."