City Council Makes First Votes To Repeal Smoking Bans
Casper City Council voted to repeal the 2013 softened version of the hard-and-fast 2012 smoking ban, and then voted to repeal the 2012 version itself after a two-hour public hearing and council discussion on Tuesday.
This was the first of three readings on the two ordinances, and pro-repeal council members voted 6-3 on the 2013 measure, nicknamed "Smoking Ban Light," and 7-2 to repeal "Smoking Ban Fully Leaded."
The council vote came on the heels of another proposed vote that kicked into high gear two weeks ago, following a two-year effort to put a referendum before the voters asking them if they approved of Smoking Ban Light. If voters didn't approve, the 2012 Fully Leaded Ban would be the law in the city..
Council member Steve Cathey said the council had one of two choices: It could repeal Smoking Ban Light or hold a referendum, which some council members estimated would cost about $30,000.
If council's trend continues for the next two readings, Casper will have no prohibitions on smoking.
And several council members said that still would not resolve the dispute because those favoring a ban will come back again with another petition drive.
"We should take the entire issue to the voters," council member Daniel Sandoval said.
Council member Robin Mundell agreed, saying Natrona County doesn't have a level playing field when Casper bans smoking in bars which then lose business to nearby towns that don't have such bans.
The estimated $30,000 to conduct a referendum is chump change compared to the other bills the city would be facing if it keeps getting caught up in legal disputes, Mundell said.
During the public hearings on both repeal proposals, those who spoke cast the issue in terms of private property rights, voting rights, public health, and
Al Curtis, owner of Moonlight Liquors & Lounge, said he's worked hard for 35 years to build a business. The previous council did not consider the consequences of their smoking ban decision, which he estimates cost him 15 percent of his business as customers went to bars in Mills and Evansville.
Joseph Porambo said he used to smoke but quit for personal reasons. "This is nothing more than a personal property rights issue."
Pat Sweeney, owner of the Wonder Bar and Poor Boys Steak House, favored repealing the smoking bans, saying they've already proven their worth. More businesses have gone smoke-free over the years, he said.. Even after Smoking Ban Light went into effect, many bars including his decided to stay smoke free.
"I think the citizens are past this," Sweeney said. "Repeal makes the most sense."
Some took the business discussion in a different direction.
Rachel Bailey said Casper would be one of the first municipalities to remove a smoking ban. Nationally, more and more local governments have instituted smoking bans. People may not want to move to a place that does not value people's health, Bailey said.
Dentist Dr. Jessi Waring said she's a business owner and a taxpayer. Business may save money in the short term without a smoking ban, but they'll pay for it in the long run with higher health care costs and covering for the uncompensated care at hospitals.
Anne Ladd took that argument further.
Wyoming has the highest per capita health care costs in the nation, and part of that has to do with its local governments' and businesses' attitudes toward smoking, Ladd said.
If a business allows smoking for its employees, but does not buy enough health insurance to cover their illnesses, that business is shifting upwards a third of its health care costs to those who must pay higher premiums, Ladd said. "You're asking the rest of us to absorb those costs."