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Lawmakers could approve smoking ban

ANNA BLOOM, Of the Record staff

For anyone just tuning in, it appears as though a ban on smoking in virtually all public places in Utah is eminent.

Senate Bill 19, legislation that amends Utah’s Indoor Clean Air Act to include smoke-free country clubs, taverns and private clubs, has moved through the State House and Senate and is currently sitting in the rules committee, awaiting its turn for a final vote. Sen. Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, the chief sponsor of the bill who has said previously that this is his "premiere issue," has rallied the support of his fellow legislators and reports he believes he has as many as 42 to 43 votes. Only 38 votes are necessary to pass a bill.

For those who have been following closely, however, principally private club and tavern owners, recent history has shown that anything can happen. Last year, Waddoups backed a similar bill, which would ban smoking in private clubs and taverns and found himself in nearly the exact same situation. At the last minute, his bill was taken off the board and there was no vote.

"The complaint I got last year was that we weren’t treating everyone fairly, that there were still some exceptions we were leaving out the social clubs like the Elks and the Eagles and the American Legion," Waddoups told The Park Record.

In an eleventh-hour push to protest this year’s version of the bill, The Utah Hospitality Association, an organization of tavern and private club owners, rounded up nearly 50 to 60 people for a press conference at the state capital’s cafeteria foyer on Valentine’s Day this year.

Leading the effort was the owner of the Cheers To You private club and Utah Hospitality Association President Bob Brown, who revealed the results of the organization’s own survey of over 500 Utahns: Sixty-nine percent of those who took the survey thought the decision on smoking should be left to club owners and not to the government, and 79 percent of Utahns think the existing laws now are fine, he reported.

Of those surveyed by the Utah Hospitality Association, 92 percent said that they were either former smokers or non-smokers. The results, according to Brown, confirm the results of last year’s poll taken by the Deseret News newspaper.

Brown does not smoke, he says but he believes smoking is good for business.

"Unlike what the anti-smokers want you to believe, this is not simply just a health issue. This is a freedom of choice and a personal property rights issue," he countered. "Decisions should be left up to business owners and not the government and then citizens have the choice of whether or not to work there or not and patrons have a choice of whether or not you want to go into the clubs or taverns."

Once patrons are asked to go outside for a smoke, they have a tendency to leave, he argues.

"If you have to ask people to smoke outside, a lot of times, people will leave," he explains. "Whether you’re buying a car or a dress, the business knows that once you step out of the door, the likelihood is, you won’t come back. That’s just simple business."

Though the Utah Hospitality Association hired lobbyists last year, they’ve become more organized this year, Brown notes. At the beginning of the legislative session, he calculates the organization had 70 members and by the end of the session he expects to welcome many more.

"A lot more people have realized that if we don’t get proactive about certain legislation, we’re just going to get walked on," he says.

Brown could not think of any Park City private club or tavern owners who were members of his state organization, nor could he name any Parkite who came to the tourist conference. Tourist towns are different, he says.

"Park City is a very interesting subculture of Utah it is really a tourist town and tourist towns are not as subject to a smoking ban as a non-tourist town," explained Brown. "If you’re visiting, you’ll stand outside and smoke for the few days you’re on vacation."

Perhaps they have not put up as public of a fight, but Parkites do have an opinion on SB19.

The Sidecar owner Michael Wong, who keeps his private club free of smoke, says that though he does not believe a ban on smoking would hurt businesses, he is not in favor of a mandate outlawing smoking.

"I think it’s great to have a non-smoking club, but it’s called a ‘private’ club, so proprietors should be able to make that decision," he said.

Waddoups is well aware of the other side of the argument.

"Some people try and paint this as a property rights issue, and I’m painting it as a health issue," he explained. "When you look at health issues throughout this state, we put all kinds of restrictions on restaurants, bars and taverns on how much training they have to have on food handling. I think we all recognize those are legitimate constrictions because of health concerns. This is every bit as valid a health concern and it over-weighs the property right issue."

Waddoups said that recent bans on smoking in Britian’s pubs and other states are not swaying lawmakers in Utah. Utahns, he says, are independently-minded.

On Thursday, Waddoups admitted, "you never know for sure" about whether or not a bill will pass before a vote, but described himself as "confident" about SB19’s support in the legislature. Since the bill was further down the list, it would likely not come up for a vote until this coming Wednesday, Feb. 22, he said.


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