Figures makes 11th try for Alabama smoking ban

Published 1:11 pm Tuesday, January 27, 2009

MONTGOMERY — State Sen. Vivian Davis Figures of Mobile isn’t giving up after 10 years of trying without success to ban smoking in most public places in Alabama.

“I’m back,” Figures said Tuesday. “This is the 11th year trying to get a strong clean indoor act passed in Alabama.”

Figures, D-Mobile, said she will introduce her bill when the Legislature convenes Feb. 3.

Figures’ bill got further last year than ever before. The Senate approved it and so did the House Government Operations Committee. But the bill never got up for a vote in the House, despite an endorsement from Gov. Bob Riley, a former smoker.

Figures, who suffers from bronchitis and asthma, said she began working on the bill initially with only Smoke Free Alabama helping her. But each year, the list of supporters keeps growing, and that makes her optimistic 2009 will be the year the bill will succeed.

At a news conference Tuesday in the Statehouse, she was surrounded by leaders of the American Cancer Society and several other health, medical and religious groups, including an official from the Alabama State Baptist Convention.

Joe Bob Mizzell, the convention’s director of Christian ethics, said people should take good care of the bodies God has given them by not smoking.

“It is not only a health issue to us; it is a spiritual issue,” he said.

Figures, who is still putting the final touches on her bill, said it would ban smoking in enclosed workplaces, including restaurants, bars, retail or service businesses, shopping malls, theaters, sports arenas, buses and taxis, health care facilities, day care centers and government buildings.

Layne Lunn, director of communications for the Alabama Restaurant Association, said the group would support a ban that covers both restaurants and bars so that there is a level playing field for the businesses. The association is opposed to a ban for restaurants only because customers would go to bars to drink, she said.

Lunn said the association had not yet seen this year’s bill and could not comment on it.

Rep. Oliver Robinson, chairman of the House Government Operations Committee, said some representatives want to exclude bars.

“That’s the thing that always throws a wrench on it getting through the House,” Robinson, D-Birmingham, said.

Figures’ bill has also run into opposition in the past from business lobbying groups because some past versions of the bill have said a business that violated the proposed ban could lose its business license, which would shut it down.

This year’s version “doesn’t say anything about losing the license,” Figures said. Instead, she said a first offense would carry a $100 fine, but a business could avoid the fine if it took steps to keep smoking from occurring again.

Alabama is one of 20 states without a statewide ban or restrictions on smoking in public places, said Scarlet Thompson, a spokeswoman for the American Cancer Society.