Smoking law talks called off
Talks among Valley health and business groups about a regional smoking law have broken off because Phoenix has no plans to curb puffing in public.
The Tempe, Chandler and Scottsdale chambers of commerce had been meeting for months with representatives from local cancer, heart and lung associations to draft a model smoking law for Valley cities. Such a law would curb smoking in bars, restaurants, hotels and other retail establishments open to the public.
The health organizations recently called off the talks after the chambers expressed opposition to any new suburban smoking laws until Phoenix has one, said Leland Fairbanks, a Tempe physician and spokesman for Arizonans Concerned About Smoking.
Fairbanks asserted that waiting for Phoenix is "a stalling technique" by business groups that don't want smoking regulated.
Eric Emmert, the Tempe Chamber of Commerce's vice president of public affairs, confirmed the reason for the breakdown.
But he said, "We'd still like to see something on a regional level, and we are still discussing it with the cities."
Phoenix Mayor Skip Rimsza said Wednesday that the city has no plans to curb smoking.
"I know other cities are struggling with this issue, but it has not hit our radar screen at all," Rimsza said.
The chambers' insistence on a regional approach could undermine a Tempe initiative that goes to voters in May, Fairbanks said. If it passes, the Tempe law would ban smoking in restaurants and bars.
"If people think something's happening on a regional level, they might say, 'We don't want to be too hasty in Tempe,' " he said.
Currently, Tempe restaurants with seating capacity of more than 100 must have a designated smoking area; bars are not regulated. All workplaces can have designated smoking areas.
A proposed Maricopa County smoking ban has been wafting its way through public hearings and health committees since October. The proposal would affect only unincorporated areas of the Valley and has not come before a vote of the Board of Supervisors.
Mesa, Gilbert, Surprise, Flagstaff and Tucson have laws that limit or ban smoking in public places.
The League of Arizona Cities and Towns will host a forum on smoking laws Feb. 15 in its downtown Phoenix office. The session is for municipal officials only and not the public, league spokesman Matt Lore said.
Anti-smoking advocate Mike Evans of Gilbert objects to the closed session.
"It's not OK for elected officials to meet secretly to discuss public-policy issues affecting citizens throughout the state," said Evans, who recently lost his job as an anti-tobacco community educator at Mesa Community College because of state budget cuts.
Lore said the session is being held simply to educate municipal officials on how existing smoking laws are written and enforced.