The Casper-Natrona County Board of Health could consider a countywide workplace smoking ban as soon as next month.
The group Smokefree Natrona County asked for the prohibition during a Tuesday work session. The board was set to vote Wednesday on whether to pursue such a ban, but decided to postpone any action until November because two members weren't present.
As currently proposed, the ban would affect all indoor businesses, as well as outdoor areas within 20 feet of an establishment's doors. It would not affect parks and other outdoor spaces.
Proponents of a workplace smoking ban say workers shouldn't be exposed to second-hand smoke, which can increase the chances of lung cancer and heart disease. Second-hand smoke, they claim, is responsible for the deaths of 100 nonsmokers in Wyoming annually.
"We are really trying ... to protect the health of all employees and workers within our county," said Traci Mears, the group's legal counsel.
No one spoke against the proposal at Tuesday's meeting. Opponents of such bans argue business owners, and not the government, should decide whether smoking will be allowed in their establishments.
Five Wyoming jurisdictions have adopted smoking bans, including the cities of Cheyenne and Laramie. When the Teton County Board of Health approved a countywide ban last year, opponents responded with a lawsuit claiming the board didn't have authority to enact such a restriction. The case is still pending.
Still, proponents of the ban asked the Natrona County health board to push forward with its own regulation. Smokefree Natrona County member Brandon Daigle said a workplace smoking ban would enjoy broad community support.
"The market cannot, and should not, determine issues of fundamental public health and safety," he said.
Members of the group say they've met with government officials in Casper and Evansville, but want the health board to enact the smoking restrictions for the entire county.
"It goes back to leveling the playing field for all the businesses involved," Mears said.
If the board balks at a ban, the group indicated they would approach individual communities.
The Casper City Council enacted a smoking ban in 2000, but it was later overturned by voter referendum.
Some workers said they would support a smoking ban. Sidelines bar manager Geno Greer loves his job, but worries that working in an establishment with a smoking section will eventually affect his health.
Greer, who appeared with the Smokefree group at Tuesday's meeting, says it isn't fair that he exercises and eats right, but could still be "poisoned by people around me." He hasn't suffered any ill effects yet, but is concerned after working at the bar for 13 years.
"It is like somebody else's right to smoke, versus my right to a healthy work environment," he told the board.
Others complain a ban would be unfair. Randy Carlen, owner of the Eagle Bowl & Cafe in downtown Casper, said a smoking ban would ruin his business. Roughly 80 percent of his customers smoke, and some come just to enjoy a cigarette while drinking coffee.
"We wouldn't be here if it wasn't for smoking," he said. "We would be closed down."
Carlen doesn't smoke, but his wife and all of his employees do. Working in a smoky environment doesn't worry him. There are many things that can kill you, he said.
Besides, the decision to allow smoking in a business should be left up to the owner, not government officials.
"I think it is just too much government," he said. "Pretty soon it will be like old Russia."
The board of health could consider the smoke free regulation at its Nov. 10 meeting, said Casper-Natrona County Health Department Director Bob Harrington. But even if the board elects to pursue a ban, a final vote would likely not come until early next year.
Reach reporter Joshua Wolfson at (307) 266-0582 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit tribtown.trib.com/JoshuaWolfson/blog to read his blog. Follow him on Twitter @joshwolfson.