Anti-smoking groups plan Arizona initiative
Recognizing that the state Legislature would probably oppose the idea, supporters of a statewide smoking ban in public places said Saturday that they will likely attempt to bring the issue directly to voters in the form of a statewide ballot initiative in
They acknowledged, however, that despite research indicating strong public support in the Phoenix area for tougher smoking bans in public places, it will be difficult to raise the money needed to put the initiative on the ballot and battle the tobacco industry.
"Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come," said Donald Morris, the executive director of Arizonans Concerned about Smoking. "But we need to make a critical decision which is whether to go statewide, which takes a lot of hard work and money, or continuing to try and pass smoking bans city by city."
Morris joined about 50 other supporters of statewide smoking ban in public places during a rally Saturday in Tempe.
Following a contentious debate that pitted public health against the rights of smokers, voters in Tempe last May narrowly passed a law banning smoking in all indoor public places including bars and restaurants.
The Guadalupe Town Council passed a similar law earlier the same month. Since then citizens committees have stepped up efforts to pass tougher smoking-ban laws in Phoenix, Scottsdale, Chandler, Mesa and Goodyear.
"We want very much to have the whole state, but we are not willing to stop at the local level because all the other states that have passed smoke-free ordinances have done so after gaining considerable support at the local level," Morris said.
On Nov. 5, Florida became the latest state to pass a statewide ban in public places. Unlike a statewide smoking ban passed earlier in California, however, the Florida law excludes bars.
Rich Bank, who is leading a charge to make it legal to smoke in bars again in Tempe, said he favors a statewide smoking ban in public places rather than the city-by-city approach. He said Tempe's ban has hurt business by driving smokers to patronize bars in neighboring communities.
"A statewide ban is the only way to create a level playing field," he said.
Bank said backers have collected 20,000 signatures in favor of making it legal to smoke again in taverns, exceeding the 11,358 needed to put the issue to Tempe voters. Rather than wait for an election, however, backers plan to ask the Tempe City Council to immediately exempt taverns from the smoking ban once the signatures have been validated, he said.
"In Tempe we want some interim relief until the state decides what it's going to do," he said. "We all know a statewide ban is coming. It's the degree of stringency that is yet to be determined."
Voters in Phoenix, Scottsdale, Surprise and other outlying communities almost uniformly support tougher smoking bans, according to findings presented Saturday by Mark O'Neil of O'Neil Associates, which conducted research with funding from the American Cancer Society and the American Lung Association.
More research is needed to gauge the opinion of voters in northern and rural Arizona before deciding whether to pursue a statewide ballot initiative banning smoking in public places, said Leland Fairbanks, a Tempe resident and president of Arizonans Concerned about Smoking.
Alex Romero, co-chairman of Phoenix for a Healthy Smoke-Free Workplace, said the goal of his group is to pass an ordinance banning smoking in all public places in Phoenix sometime next year either by City Council vote or by referendum.