If state Rep. Linda Lopez has her way, people working to quit smoking this new year might get a little help from the state Legislature.
Lopez, a Democrat from Tucson, is making the first big push to ban smoking in all public places in Arizona.
That might have seemed like a radical idea five or 10 years ago, but 31 states now have some type of no-smoking ordinance, and more than 200 cities ban it completely in public places, including bars.
Lopez said she’s helping Arizona catch up with nationwide health reform that has been going on for years. Some wonder, though, if Arizona, a state that traditionally values property rights, will be a holdout in a national and worldwide movement during the coming year.
The entire nation is going through a cultural change — ask any smoker from New York City, California or even Tempe who now is used to standing outside on the sidewalk to light up. Even Ireland has passed a ban on smoking in its traditionally smoky pubs.
"Arizona’s not some monstrous place in the United States that’s different from everywhere else," said Joe Cherner, a nationally known clean-air advocate who lives in the Valley.
Still, the smoke-free movement in Arizona has chugged along slowly. Some cities with smoking ordinances, such as Chandler and Mesa, seem set on allowing smoking in bars. Others without ordinances, such as Phoenix and Scottsdale, have expressed their lack of interest in a statewide ban on smoking in all public places.
A statewide ban could be a tough sell in the Legislature.
And legislators from rural Arizona, where smoking bans are more contentious, are downright opposed to a total ban, said Bill Weigele, president of the Arizona Licensed Beverage Association. The group has been the state’s most vocal advocate against ordinances in cities such as Tempe and Prescott.
"I think a lot of it will have to do with rural Arizona," Weigele said. "I don’t think that rural Arizona wants to be brought into a statewide smoking ban."
Clean-air advocates say the resistance to the ban is natural — as with any resistance to cultural change that eventually eases when people get used to living differently. Some have said that if the Legislature fails to advance the bill, a state initiative drive may follow.
Advocates of a ban say the time is right to make the drive in the state.
"It’s very hard to imagine now somebody in a movie theater smoking," Cherner said. "But at one time, movie theater owners were saying they would go out of business if we made movie theaters smoke-free."
Cherner said he heard griping from every industry when it was forced to go smoke-free, from movie theater owners to bus companies and stadium operators. About a year after an industry goes smoke-free, complaints decline and people get used to breathing clean air, he said.
"It’s hard to imagine somebody smoking on the bus. If you tried to smoke on a bus today, people would think you had a mental illness — same as if you tried to smoke in a movie theater or on an airplane. Nobody’s trying to ban or prohibit smoking. If people want to smoke, they can do that. They can smoke 10 packs a day if they want to. They just can’t blow it down other people’s lungs."
Others say the issue comes down to a constitutional debate. The state doesn’t have a right to tell property owners how to run their businesses, said Darcy Olsen, president and CEO of the Goldwater Institute.
"To us, this is fundamentally about protecting private property rights and the right of property owners to use and dispose of their property in the best manner that they see fit," Olsen said. "That is consistent with a free society.
When the Constitution was written, it wasn’t just the right to own property, it was the whole bundle of rights that goes with that. It has to do with the use of your property."
Tempe Mayor Neil Giuliano said governments should feel compelled to pass ordinances to protect their residents.
"It’s a cultural change, but it’s based on good health," said Giuliano, who caught heat after Tempe narrowly passed its total ban on smoking and bars started complaining about losses. "From my standpoint, it’s as reasonable as having stoplights in intersections to protect the public."
For Weigele, the issue comes down to business. People in the bar and restaurant industries say people tend to stay longer and tip more when they smoke.
"We have no problem with finding areas where smokers and nonsmokers don’t have to cohabitate," he said. "But there has to be somewhere where smokers can be."