Story last updated at 1:21 p.m. Thursday, November 28, 2002

Homer group wants to clear the air
by Chris Bernard
Staff Writer

The Homer Alliance for Fresh Air recently kicked off a movement to bring clean indoor air to town.

Basically, that means smoke-free workplaces, according to Dan Boone, the group's director.

But is Homer ready to go smoke free?

"It's a pretty progressive place," Boone said. "I think that's one of the reasons (the group's sponsors) wanted to start here, because it has a chance of happening."

Boone is funded by a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation grant to the Alaska Native Health Board, which launched the campaign to clear the air in Homer. In addition to Boone, Tara Moss and Karen Shemet volunteer with the group.

Once commonplace, smokers are now an endangered breed with fewer and fewer safe harbors. Smoking is no longer allowed in most of the places it once was -- commercial airline flights, movie theaters, shopping malls.

Bars and restaurants are among the last bastions for smokers, but they aren't the only ones in Homer -- smoking is still allowed in taxicabs and at the bowling alley, among other places, Boone said.

The Homer Alliance for Clean Air, and similar groups across the country, want to put an end to that to protect the health of nonsmokers, whom group members believe are forced to inhale secondhand smoke.

But, said Boone, only if that's what the community wants.

"Right now, we're trying to provide information to the community to bring about change," he said. "If the community doesn't want it, it's not going to happen."

Generally, he said, when people hear about the risks of secondhand smoke, they support the group.

"We were at the (Rotary Club's) Health Fair recently," Boone said, "and we had more than 130 people sign our sheet."

According to the Alliance, 3,000 nonsmokers die from secondhand smoke-caused lung cancers each year.

Each year, 37,000 nonsmokers also die from secondhand smoke<>caused heart disease. And in Alaska alone, 80 to 150 people die annually from exposure to secondhand smoke.

Secondhand smoke also:

* kills more people than car accidents, AIDS, homicides and fires and drug use combined.

* is the third-leading cause of preventable death in the U.S., following smoking and alcohol abuse.

* causes an estimated 53,000 premature deaths annually in nonsmokers.

While few people argue with the claim that smoke, either first- or secondhand, is unhealthy, not everyone agrees that smoking should be banned.

In a letter to the Homer News, nonsmoker Terry Jones argued that it is "one more form of people control that this area is so famous for." She went on to say that businesses should be allowed to have smoking and nonsmoking areas and let the public choose whether they spend their money there.

"I think there's an awful lot of laws and a lot of restrictions that aren't necessary," she said in a phone interview. "I truly believe that a person who owns a business should have the right to control what goes on within that business.

"Don't get me wrong, I wish everybody in the world would quit smoking," Jones said. "I think it's a filthy, disgusting habit. But I don't think we need more rules and regulations."

Boone noted that not everyone has shown support for his group's efforts.

"Yeah, there's been some negative feedback, sure," said Boone. But that's OK, he said.

"At some point, there's going to have to be something brought forward to the city council, but not until we get enough information out there," he said. "And not until we're sure this is what people want. It's not our job to get smoking banned. It's our job to educate people about the dangers and let them make up their own minds."

Boone is himself a reformed smoker who began as a teenager and smoked until he was in his mid-30s. It's been about a quarter of a century since he quit, he said.

"I knew it wasn't healthy, and I had young kids. I knew it wasn't good to smoke around them," he said. "I also didn't want them to pick it up."

Over the years, he's lost a brother, a cousin and a co-worker to smoking-related illnesses.

"There are a lot of good reasons to not smoke," Boone said. "There's lots of support for this in the medical community in Homer, and the Homer Medical Clinic just went smoke free -- including the parking lot and the sidewalks and all that. There really is a lot of support for this in the community."

Whether it's enough to pass an ordinance is still anyone's guess, though.

The Soldotna City Council last month voted unanimously to ban smoking in restaurants. Smoking is still allowed in bars that do not serve prepared food, and in bar portions of restaurants that are separately ventilated.

The Homer Alliance polled sitting city council members and candidates prior to the October election, and asked them if they'd support a similar ordinance banning smoking in all workplaces. Of the seven current council members five said yes. Only Ray Kranich said no, and Doug Stark said he thinks it should be a community initiative.

When asked if they'd support a similar ordinance banning smoking in restaurants, council members voted the same way, though Rick Ladd said he would like to find a way to accommodate smokers. And when asked about banning smoking in bars, Ladd and Kranich said no outright.

"I'm receptive to a ban not only for businesses, but also for entrances to buildings," said Councilwoman Rose Beck.

Mayor Jack Cushing said he is glad to see an independent group taking on the responsibility.

"It may well be something that people want," he said. "Eventually, it will require a council action, but right now there needs to be community education, and this group is doing that."

Chris Bernard can be reached at

n n n n n

For more information on secondhand smoke, visit the American Cancer Society Web site at