Casper is one step closer to imposing a smoking ban, although rules for private clubs are still unsettled.
The City Council voted late Tuesday in favor of a public smoking ban during the first of three required readings, choosing not to debate possible private club amendments after a lengthy public hearing. Councilmen Paul Bertoglio and Bill Brauer cast the only votes against the proposal, which is expected to come up for a second vote June 5.
During a pre-meeting work session, Councilman Charlie Powell said he would like the provision for private clubs to limit smoking to a space never entered by the public, not just a room that is smoke-free when there are public events. Councilwoman Kate Sarosy said she would like to remove the private club exemption entirely after realizing how often clubs host public events.
After more than 30 supporters and opponents of the ban repeated concerns about private rights and public health, most council members explained their positions rather than attempted to sway opinion before the vote.
“It’s basically health related, which is why I support this,” Sarosy said.
Having gone “back and forth” on the issue, Sarosy said she thinks it is the government’s responsibility to create rules protecting public health. Councilman Maury Daubin said he is also convinced secondhand smoke poses a health hazard worth regulating, although he has not decided how to vote on private club amendments.
Bertoglio, who was on the council during the first attempt to institute a smoking ban 12 years ago, said he remains opposed to the measure and thinks the only change has been a voluntary market shift. He estimated that five restaurants were smoke-free in 2001, with 115 restaurants smoke-free now.
“When we talk about liberty, liberty is freedom of choice,” he said.
He said there isn’t one group whose rights trump another’s, and he was not convinced by studies that show bans don’t cause financial hardship for businesses. Increases in drunken driving created by people leaving town to drink is also a concern Bertoglio said he takes seriously.
Some opponents of the ordinance have cited a study that indicates drunken driving fatalities increase in communities that have enacted smoking bans.
Powell said the scientific reports and data presented in numerous meetings had no influence on him. His mind was determined by personal circumstances beginning in 1983, when his wife lost her brother from a severe asthma attack. Ten years later, Powell said his son was diagnosed with asthma at 18 months.
During a time when there were few completely nonsmoking restaurants, Powell said his family always sat in the nonsmoking section while dining. Although the smell was undetectable to him, his son would start coughing.
“We’d be up all night, trying to basically keep him breathing,” he said.
Powell said the ordinance would help protect people affected immediately after being unwittingly exposed to secondhand smoke, cases where simply leaving after entering a smoking establishment would be too late.
In response, Brauer said he lost his mother and brother-in-law to emphysema and has a wife and two sons with asthma. He said his family has coped with limitations caused by the disease, and he doesn’t think the government should take responsibility for each person’s health. Brauer said he still opposes a ban, although he has “no doubt” that the measure will pass.
“We’re gradually losing our own personal responsibility,” he said during earlier debate.