In November 1994, Salt Lake County voters may decide if smoking should be banned in restaurants and other public places except for bars - but only if the County Commission agrees to let them decide.
The Salt Lake City-County Board of Health passed a resolution Thursday calling for the referendum. However, Dr. Kirk M. Gilmore, the board member who sponsored the resolution, doubts that county commissioners will allow the question to go before the voters.Bars would be exempt from the smoking ban, but if they wanted to serve meals and allow smoking, they'd be required to get a permit and build a room with separate ventilation for smoking patrons.
"It's not really controversial. It's the right thing to do," Gilmore said of the ban. He told the Deseret News that it wouldn't cost businesses anything and would protect employees.
He said the evidence is in: Secondhand smoke is a killer. He called it a "Class A carcinogen."
But Gilmore predicted that the County Commission won't "put it before the public, and that will be a tragedy." If it were on the ballot, he predicted it would pass overwhelmingly. Last November, during a public hearing on the issue, County Commissioner Randy Horiuchi said he and Commissioner Jim Bradley opposed the ban because they don't consider restaurants public places.
When the resolution passed, Commissioner Brent Overson, who is a member of the health department board, said "I certainly will be an advocate" for putting the matter on the ballot.
The board also voted to recommend that a fee be added to the business license charge for all establishments that allow smoking. The fee would be used to pay department staff members to enforce the Utah Indoor Clean Air Act.
The act requires that establishments that permit smoking set up nonsmoking areas where smoke does not drift. Under the resolution, department inspectors would try to check such establishments on a quarterly basis.
One board member wondered how inspectors could tell if smoke was entering nonsmoking areas, in the absence of air-quality standards for indoor smoke.
Gilmore spoke in favor of quarterly inspections, saying, "My main concern is that we pass something that has some teeth in it." He doesn't want just token action, he said.
Board member Gus Sotiriou objected strenuously to the fee, saying, "People are getting unemployed. People are getting laid off." Then government charges businesses to enforce smoking rules, he said.
"I think it's baloney," Sotiriou said.