Arizonans are likely to see two smoking-related ballot initiatives at the polls in November, including one that backers of a statewide smoking ban say Big Tobacco is funding to confuse and deceive voters.
Supporters of the proposed Smoke-Free Arizona Act say a group of liquor and tobacco industry representatives launched another initiative to derail their efforts.
They argue that the competing measure’s name, the Non-Smoker Protection Act, is misleading because it actually would ease restrictions in places such as Tempe that already prohibit smoking in bars.
But the chairman of the Non-Smoker Protection Committee, Mark Anthony Desimone, said his initiative seeks to protect minors from secondhand smoke while securing the rights of businesses and the state’s tourism industry.
“I think most people would find it very reasonable,” said Desimone, who owns The Hidden House, a Phoenix bar.
The most significant difference between the proposals is that Smoke-Free Arizona would eliminate smoking in all business establishments statewide, including bars. The other measure would allow smoking in bars and tobacco shops that prohibit minors, and in completely enclosed bar areas that are attached to restaurants but have separate ventilation systems.
A third initiative, Keep Arizona Free, would leave smoking restrictions entirely in the hands of municipalities. The phone number for that group has been disconnected.
The American Cancer Society is one of several health organizations in favor of the statewide ban.
Michelle Pabis, the group’s government relations director, said there is only one reason the liquor industry launched its initiative on May 24 — nine months after Smoke-Free Arizona filed its application with the Secretary of State.
“It’s clearly an effort to confuse the voters,” she said.
Tobacco giant RJ Reynolds, of Winston-Salem, N.C., contributed $10,000 on May 26 to put the Non-Smoker Protection Act on the ballot. Pabis said the company has sponsored similar competing initiatives in other states.
Desimone said his group is accepting money from any contributor that supports the cause, and he believes most Arizonans don’t want smokeless bars.
“Smokers need a place to go, and bars are an appropriate place to do that,” he said.
Both sides said they will gather the required 122,612 voter signatures to put their proposals on the Nov. 7 ballot.