No Smoking

Locals weigh in on ballot proposals that would ban smoking

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Bracing themselves against the black padding on the bowed end of the varnished bar, Payson's self-proclaimed MOB (the Miserable Ol' Bastards), perch on barstools inside the Buffalo Bar and Grill -- beers at the ready.

Bear, Gene B., Sparky and Jeff Harris are among the loosely knit group of guys who meet often at the bar for bull sessions and a few beers. They banter over politics, leisure activities and local gossip, and balk at government intervention.

Harris -- the only smoker of the group -- takes a drag off his filterless Lucky Strike cigarette.

"I do believe smoking will kill you, but if I want to smoke, I'll smoke," said the 65-year-old military veteran who sparked up his first smoke more than 50 years ago.

Smokers in the Rim Country, until now, have been able to light up with impunity. Some restaurants, a few businesses and almost every bar in Payson allow their patrons to smoke, but if Arizona voters pass one of two smoking initiatives on the 2006 primary election ballot, there will be no more lighting up in public places.

"We have too much Big Brother," said Bear, a disabled Navy veteran who served in Vietnam and a nonsmoker. "We have no more rights; it's nobody's business."

Both initiatives establish a statewide uniform smoking policy, but one is more restrictive than the other.

Proposition 201, the Smoke-Free Arizona Act, will prohibit the smoking of tobacco products in all public areas -- including bars and restaurants -- and businesses.

Exemptions include private clubs such as the American Legion; hotel rooms designated for smoking; and outdoor patios.

The other ballot initiative, the Nonsmoker Protection Act, Proposition 206 -- backed by the tobacco company, R.J. Reynolds -- also imposes a statewide rule, but, its parameters are more liberal.

If passed, smokers could light up in bars, restaurants, hotels and other establishments that sell alcohol as long as a physically detached area with its own ventilation system is provided.

But unlike the Smoke-Free Arizona Act, which preserves municipal nonsmoking ordinances such as those in Tempe, Prescott and Flagstaff, Proposition 206 would override existing smoking bans. Business owners who are bound by local smoking bans could choose to permit smoking once again.

Either way, the outcome is bad for business, said Mike McCannon, owner of the Buffalo Bar and Grill.

"It's going to be expensive," he said. "It'll hurt business."

The passing of the nonsmoker Protection Act, he added, will require bars and restaurants, if they want to maintain a smoker-friendly environment, to invest in ventilation systems and separate facilities -- a cost patrons will eventually absorb.

"It'll hurt this little town," said Payson resident and nonsmoker Ralph Collins, who fought against Tempe's smoking restrictions. "Six businesses had to close because of this. There are certain places -- churches, hospitals -- where you shouldn't smoke, but a bar is a bar is a bar."

In the past, bowlers and cigarettes went together like cookies and milk -- no more. The bowling industry's smoking-restriction trend reached Payson this spring.

Rim Country Lanes Manager Kevin Erickson, said since the bowling alley became a smoke-free environment in May 2006, business has never been better. Smoking is only allowed in an designated, outdoor area or in the Striker's Lounge.

"As a whole, we did lose some bowlers, but we gained more in the other direction," he said. "We get complimented all the time."

The business' clientele is increasingly family-oriented.

"If it's a statewide ban, it's not going hurt anything in my mind."

But others think that Proposition 201's blanket ban of smoking in bars will drive people away from local watering holes to the only place in town where smokers can take refuge -- the casino.

"If (Proposition 201) passes where are you going to go but the casino?" said Town Manager Fred Carpenter. "That could have a local impact. If you are a smoker and want to go out to eat, you'll have to go to the casino."

Harris and the rest of the MOB fear the worst. "Ninety-five of the people who smoke and drink won't be there (to vote) anyway, so it'll pass," he said.

Propositions on statewide ballot:
Prop. 100
Bail; undocumented immigrants.
Prop. 101
Local government levy limits.
Prop. 102
Federal violation; damages.
Prop. 103
English as official language.
Prop. 104
Municipal debt.
Prop. 105
State trust land reform.
Prop. 106
Conserving Arizona's Future.
Prop. 107
Protect Marriage Arizona.
Prop. 200
Arizonans for Voter Rewards.
Prop. 201
Smoke-Free Arizona Act.
Prop. 202
Raise the Minimum Wage for Working Arizonans Act.
Prop. 203
Increases tobacco taxes to establish an Early Childhood Fund.
Prop. 204
Humane Treatment of Farm Animals Act.
Prop. 205
Your Right to Vote.
Prop. 206
Arizona Non-Smoker Protection Act.
Prop. 207
Private Property Rights Protection
Prop. 300
Public programs; citizens.
Prop. 301
Methamphetamine; probation ineligibility.

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