City's no-smoking ordinance covers more than restaurants
Anchorage’s new nonsmoking ordinance has raised concerns for restaurant owners but also for some office and commercial building operators.
A health inspector from the city department dispatched to enforce the law helped outlined some answers for an industry group. Jason Froehle, one of five health inspectors, spoke Feb. 9 to the Building Owners and Managers Association of Anchorage at the Hilton Anchorage Hotel.
"The Department of Health and Human Services enforces public health laws," Froehle said. "Secondhand smoke is an important public health issue."
The ordinance, which took effect Dec. 31, prohibits smoking in many enclosed workplaces and enclosed public areas. The change effects restaurants, sports arenas, convention halls and other facilities, Froehle said.
Anchorage Assembly members approved the legislation last June.
Exemptions include some bars with no employees or customers younger than 21, plus bingo halls and pull-tab establishments, which must provide a smoke-free area for patrons, he said.
Another exception includes offices not open to the public with four or fewer employees, he said. One possible example could be a small delivery company that has no walk-in traffic, he said.
The city health department requires buildings that do fall under the ordinance to post no- smoking signs, typically at every entrance, Froehle said. Stickers can be obtained from the city health department.
Also, every business affected by the ordinance must have a written policy onsite regarding nonsmoking conditions, he said. Business operators should inform employees about the policy, he said.
The ordinance requires people to smoke a reasonable distant outside a building so smoke doesn’t drift back inside, he said. However, each workplace can have its own definition of how far is far enough to comply with the law, he said.
Typically at least two inspectors visit a site where a complaint has been filed so they both agree that smokers are a suitable distance from the building and smoke is not drifting inside, he said. At Froehle’s municipal building, city officials have set 25 feet as a reasonable distance.
Also, smoking is prohibited in public vehicles including buses, taxis, police cars, limousines and vehicles for designated use by city officials, he said.
The city health department is enforcing the ordinance as complaints come in rather than visiting businesses, similar to health inspections performed by its inspectors.
"When complaints about a business are made to Health and Human Services we send them a warning letter," he said.
A second complaint is followed by a letter and a call from the health department. After a third complaint, the business is referred to a code enforcement officer or the Anchorage Police Department, he said.
"We’re trying to make this as educational as possible and avoid getting ugly with this," he said.
Those who do not comply with the ordinance face fines up to $300 for each violation and could receive penalties up to $1,000, he said.
The city health office has issued several warning letters, and so far the ordinance has not been challenged in court, he said.
Wording in the ordinance calls for a review at its one-year mark. The mayor, city health department and the police department will present a report to the Assembly detailing its effectiveness in reducing secondhand smoke, the number of violations and penalties, the practicality of enforcement, the ordinance’s economic impact and any possible revisions.