Carlsbad Council to Vote on Public Smoking Ban

[For more information, see also Carlsbad Decides]
By Victoria Parker-Stevens
Current-Argus Staff Writer
July 23, 2000

CARLSBAD - The rights of non-smokers will be weighed against the rights of business owners Tuesday when the City Council decides whether to prohibit smoking in work and public places.

The vote is expected to be unusually close, with four councilors in favor of the prohibition, two against, and two who could be swayed to vote no.

Many councilors are saying they still want constituents to tell them whether they think Carlsbad should join Santa Fe and Las Cruces in having an ordinance that increases local smoking bans.

Carlsbad is not the only small city considering the issue. Clean indoor air groups are making similar proposals in practically every southeastern New Mexico town.

The ordinance the council will consider Tuesday (July 25th) is based on those already in existence and does not ban smoking in all work and public places. Not included in the ban are bars; enclosed areas used for private functions; retail tobacco stores; and outdoor dining areas.

Included are outdoor service lines; common areas in housing units; bowling facilities; and bingo playing rooms, except enclosed areas off-limits to children with, at most, 33 percent of the bingo facility's seating capacity.

The police department is the agency responsible for enforcing the ordinance. A violation would be a petty misdemeanor punishable by a written warning during the first six months the ordinance is in effect and after that, by a fine up to $500, imprisonment up to 90 days or both. Citizens can also bring legal actions to enforce the ordinance.

A restaurant owner can plead his case to a hearing officer and be granted an exemption if he can show that a significant amount of business was lost over a six-month period because of the ordinance and that an exemption would not be harmful to employees.

Even if the ordinance has just two councilors in favor Tuesday, backers would fare better than about five years ago when then-councilor Dr. Ted Hauser couldn't get a councilor to second his motion to pass such an ordinance.

Carlsbad already prohibits smoking in city-owned buildings, and numerous restaurants and other businesses have banned smoking over the years, noted Councilor Bob Murray, chairman of the city's clean air ordinance committee. "It's kind of been an evolution."

The lead backer of the ordinance is Carlsbad's Task Force for Clean Indoor Air, whose 10-15 active members have been working since 1996 to educate businesses and the public and to draft an ordinance.

With new council members after this year's election, the task force thought it would be a good time to bring a proposed ordinance to the council, said Jackie Hadzic, task force member and president of the American Cancer Society's Carlsbad unit. At forums, candidates were asked if they would support the ordinance, and three of the four elected councilors said yes.

After the group presented the ordinance to the council, the city attorney and administrator reviewed it, and the mayor appointed a committee to present a final draft to the council.

The committee was composed of Murray, Hauser and new councilors Larry Henderson, Jimmie Cisneros and Manny Anaya. All favor the ordinance except for Anaya.

To support its mission, the task force cites organizations such as the Environmental Protection Agency and surgeon general, which have reported frequent exposure to second-hand smoke causes more than 50,000 deaths in the U.S. annually.

Other information provided by the group shows a 1997 opinion poll conducted by New Mexico State University in which 70 percent of Carlsbad residents and 67 percent of business owners support an ordinance. Also noted by the group are studies that conclude such ordinances have either no effect on sales or slightly increase sales.

"We do so much about (enforcing) other public health issues," said Hadzic, who compared smoking to being exposed to second-hand smoke. "If someone hits themselves, no one cares, but if you hit someone else, that's different."

Hadzic noted airlines and many other large businesses nationwide already prohibit smoking.

"It makes good business sense, or why do big companies take it without discussion?" she asked. "The cost of insurance is higher if smoking is allowed."

"We're not trying to be Big Brother. We're just trying to protect the rights of those who don't smoke," Dr. Richard Davies, a task force member, said to the City Council. "Seventy-five percent of the adult population are now non-smokers. It (the ordinance) is a national movement."

Davies said the ordinance would help create a clean and healthy city, so "it's about economic development."

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