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For the week of May 31 through June 6, 2000

Ketchum’s no-smoking push is on back burner

Tobacco lobbying group surfaces with Website


"We have enough to do without legislating morals."

- Ketchum Mayor Guy Coles


By GREG STAHL
Express Staff Writer

Ketchum’s City Council has quietly left on the back burner an effort mounted earlier this year to enact a smoking ban in city bars and restaurants.

Shelving the controversial plan—at least while the council grapples with high-profile issues such as the city’s new comprehensive plan and possible Highway 75 expansion—sits well with Mayor Guy Coles.

The mayor, who smoked for 40 years before stopping a decade ago, hasn’t backed a no-smoking ordinance.

"We have enough to do without legislating morals," he said in an interview.

As mayor, Coles has political clout in influencing and setting the council’s agenda. Thus, his view of the no-smoking issue is important.

In so many words, the mayor said in an interview on Thursday, he wouldn’t be disappointed if the proposal slipped through the cracks rather than be placed on a council agenda for debate.

"Let a sleeping dog lie," Coles said. "We’re not going to indulge in it at all.

"There are a lot of things on our plate already without [taking on] anything more."

Ketchum’s council unanimously voted on Feb. 22 to pursue no-smoking regulations in the interest of public health. Almost immediately, the proposal ran into a buzz saw of opposition.

Local bar owners assailed the council in March, declaring the city should not be in the business of legislating personal behavior.

But in a separate interview last week, Councilman David Hutchinson said he thinks the council still has the political will to pursue no-smoking regulations.

"When you come up with something that’s appropriate, you don’t give up because you’re tired," he said, a reference to the council’s current busy schedule.

In February, when Twin Falls was considering a similar ordinance, that town’s city attorney, Fritz Wonderlich, said a city ban on smoking would contradict state law.

He pointed to Idaho statutes precluding smoking in public places and requiring that smoking sections be set aside in restaurants. Bars and bowling alleys may allow smoking, he said.

Wonderlich said in a Friday telephone conversation that the state has "implied preemption" on the issue. In other words, he said, state law supersedes local law in this case, he said.

Ketchum city attorney Margaret Simms told the Mountain Express last week she won’t disclose her legal opinion until the council asks for it. She said she’s completed extensive research on the topic.

Simms did say, however, it seemed to her that the Twin Falls City Council didn’t have the political will to follow through on drafting city no-smoking regulations.

Meanwhile, a national smokers’ advocacy group, the National Smokers Alliance (NSA), has mounted its own assault on the Ketchum council’s move to draft an anti-smoking ordinance. The group lobbies nationally for tobacco company interests and uses the Internet, where it has its own site, to fight no-smoking efforts.

"We must join together to fight back against the anti-smoking zealots in your community before it’s too late," reads a paragraph on the Website.

The Website text is followed by a list of Ketchum City Council members, their addresses and phone numbers and addresses of the Wood River Valley’s two newspapers.

NSA officials were not available for comment.

A rival group, Berkeley, Calif.-based Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights (ANR), appeared eager to respond to the NSA’s efforts.

"I’ve been here five years, and I’ve never seen a community waltz in and pass an ordinance without a fight from the tobacco industry," said ANR associate director Elva Yanez said in an interview.

In other communities that have drafted anti-smoking laws, the NSA has sent operatives to organize grass roots businesses and residents against the efforts, she said.

There are over 800 communities nationwide that have adopted anti-smoking regulations, according to ANR research.

The NSA’s motivation for fighting the ordinances is simple, Yanez said.

She pointed to a draft NSA document, posted on a Philip Morris Website, that states, "Financial impact of smoking bans will be tremendous—three to five fewer cigarettes per day per smoker will reduce annual manufacturer profits a billion dollars-plus per year."

 

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