The Casper-Natrona County Board of Health gave no indication Tuesday how it might vote on a proposed smoke-free workplace regulation.
Instead, members listened to an hour of public comment concerning a group's request to prohibit smoking in all indoor businesses within Natrona County. A formal vote on whether to pursue the workplace smoking ban could come this afternoon when the board meets again.
"What the board might do is anybody's guess," Chairman Karl Killmer said after the informal work session.
Roughly 35 people attended Tuesday's meeting. Proponents of the regulation said it would protect the public from second-hand smoke, which can increase the risk of heart disease and lung cancer. They insisted workers shouldn't have to choose between a paycheck and exposure to cigarette smoke.
"The freedom that is most important is the freedom to breathe unpolluted air," Casper resident Pam Martin said.
Ban critics said people who don't like smoking can simply find other places to eat or work. Business owners, and not a government board, should decide whether to allow smoking in their establishments, they maintained.
"We don't need you to tell us how to run our businesses," said Mike Reed, owner of the Vintage Bar and Poplar Wine and Spirits.
The advocacy group Smokefree Natrona County asked the board to adopt a workplace smoking regulation last month. The board postponed a decision until this week because two of its members were away.
Supporters of a workplace smoking ban noted that cities that adopted similar restrictions experienced a subsequent decline in certain health problems. That fact justified the board's involvement, according to Dr. Tom Burke, an internist practicing in Casper.
"There really is a responsibility by this board to look at worker safety in public places," he said.
Opponents characterized the ban as an infringement on their rights. People should be allowed to choose for themselves whether they want to patronize businesses that permit smoking, they said.
"Constitution wise, I don't think it is fair to tell adults what to do," said Casper resident Mary Mitchell.
A handful of Wyoming cities, including Cheyenne and Laramie, already have smoking bans. Teton County's Board of Health adopted a public smoking ban last year, but decided not to enforce the regulation after opponents filed a lawsuit.
The suit claims health boards don't have the authority to enact smoking bans. A judge is expected to rule on the case soon.
A few people in attendance Tuesday asked the Natrona County board to hold off on a decision until the Teton suit is decided. Others said a delay would only prolong workers' exposure to second-hand smoke.
Even if the board chooses to pursue a smoke-free regulation, a final vote won't come until after the first of the year, said health department Director Robert Harrington. The board must give the public at least 45 days to comment before making a final decision.
The city of Casper enacted a smoking ban in 2000. It was later overturned by voter referendum.
Reach reporter Joshua Wolfson at (307) 266-0582 or at email@example.com. Visit http://trib.com/news/opinion/blogs/wolfjammies/ to read his blog. Follow him on Twitter @joshwolfson.
The Casper-Natrona County Board of Health could formally vote today on whether to pursue a workplace smoking ban. The meeting, which is open to the public, begins at 12:15 p.m. at the health department, 475 S. Spruce St., in Casper.