Doctor wants ban on public place smoking
PRESCOTT â€“ Prescott could join the ranks of Flagstaff and Mesa and other Arizona cities that ban smoking in public places, if the City Council endorses a recommendation of area doctors.
Local doctor Bob Matthies approached the council on Tuesday to ask for an ordinance that would ban smoking in public places, such as restaurants and bars.
It doesnâ€™t appear likely, however, that the council would take that action. Rather, the majority said, the action should start with the citizens.
Currently, city code restricts smoking in public places to designated smoking areas. The code also requires that employers provide smoking and nonsmoking areas in their places of business.
But the code exempts a number of public places, including bars, bowling alleys, billiard rooms, hotels and motels, tobacco stores, and private clubs and recreation facilities.
Matthies told the council members that he was speaking to them as a private citizen concerned about his personal health, as a doctor concerned about the health of his patients, and as a representative of the medical staff at Yavapai Regional Medical Center.
He emphasized the toll of second-hand smoke, which he said can lead to illnesses that cause missed days of work and increased medical expenses.
Matthies asked the City Council to impose an ordinance to ban smoking in public places â€œfor the benefit of this community.â€ A number of people in the audience applauded after Matthiesâ€™ comments.
His appeal was on the â€œcall to the publicâ€ portion of the agenda, however, and the council did not discuss it during the meeting.
But after the meeting, a majority of council members voiced reservations about such an ordinance and said they would not support bringing it back for a formal council vote.
Mayor Rowle Simmons, who has the authority to put the matter on the agenda, said he would not do so. â€œI wonâ€™t do it,â€ he said, â€œbut if the council wants to put it on, weâ€™ll deal with it.â€
In order for the matter to make it to a future agenda, two council members would have to agree to place it there.
And of four remaining members who spoke on the matter after the meeting, only one â€“ Councilman Lee Nidess â€“ said he favored putting the matter on the agenda.
For the rest, the issue appeared to come down to the rights of the owners of the public places, as well as a matter of choice for the public.
Simmons, for instance, said he had â€œa problem with legislating such issues.â€
â€œIf a restaurant wants to go non-smoking, good for them,â€ Simmons added. â€œ But I have heard of cases where these ordinances have gotten out of hand.â€
As an example, he pointed to communities that have tried to impose restrictions on smokers in their own homes if the smoke bothers their neighbors.
Councilman Steve Blair emphasized the issue of choice, maintaining that restaurant customers can choose to sit in no-smoking areas if smoke bothers them. â€œWeâ€™ve provided enough choice now,â€ he said, referring to the cityâ€™s current ordinance.
Even so, Blair said area residents could take the matter in their own hands, if the issue is important to them. â€œI think this is more of a community vote, rather than just seven people,â€ he said.
Councilman Robert Behnke agreed, pointing out that citizens could begin a ballot initiative if they want to bring the matter to a head.
Councilman Bob Roecker was more ambivalent about the issue, pointing out that he has â€œempathy for it; I just donâ€™t know how far we should take it.â€
Roecker also said he would not ask to put the matter on the agenda for a council vote.
Only Nidess voiced strong support for the smoking ban. â€œIâ€™m all for it,â€ he said. Even though he allowed that the bans tend to be controversial, Nidess said, â€œin the long run, I think theyâ€™re good.â€
For instance, he said, â€œin Flagstaff, itâ€™s a pleasure to go out and eat.â€
As far as putting the matter on the agenda, Nidess said, â€œYes, by all means I would â€“ at least to get it up for discussion.â€
City Attorney John Moffitt said the City Council cannot simply opt to put the matter on the ballot to avoid voting on it. But citizens could take out petitions to get the matter on a future ballot as an initiative.