Statehouse rally helps anti-smoking bill

Published 4:33 pm Tuesday, February 17, 2009

MONTGOMERY — More than 100 students rallied on the Statehouse steps Tuesday to help an anti-smoking bill get off to a strong start in the Legislature.

The students came from as far south as Mobile and as far north as Huntsville to support a bill by state Sen. Vivian Davis Figures, D-Mobile, which would ban smoking statewide in public places, including bars, restaurants, retails businesses and public transportation. It would also prohibit smoking within 15 feet of a building’s entrance or exit.

Moments after the rally, the Senate Education Committee, headed by Figures, approved her bill 8-2. The bill now goes to the Senate for consideration.

Sen. Rusty Glover, R-Semmes, voted against the bill. He predicted it would succeed in the Senate and die in the House, as it did last year. Bars and restaurants have raised questions about similar bills in the past.

“Most any version will go through the Senate. The hang-up will be in the House, as it has been in the past,” he said.

Despite Glover’s prediction, supporters were busy working for the bill Tuesday.

At the rally, Amber Peek, 17, of Arley pulled out her inhaler to show people and talked about the dangers of secondhand smoke.

“Because of my dad’s smoking, I have asthma — real severe asthma. It controls every aspect of my life,” she said.

The Meeks High School student said she was diagnosed with asthma at 3, and her father quit smoking when she was 11.

“I believe a smoke-free Alabama would be the best Alabama,” she said.

State Health Officer Don Williamson told the students that the goal of the bill is to reduce exposure to secondhand smoke and encourage smokers to stop.

“When you make something less easy to do, people stop doing it,” he said.

The student rally was organized by the Coalition for a Tobacco Free Alabama. This is the 11th year the group has been working with Figures to try to pass a bill to restrict or ban smoking in public places.

“I’m not going away until we pass a strong version of this bill,” Figures told supporters Tuesday.

Glover and Sen. Trip Pittman, R-Daphne, who cast the other committee vote against the bill, said they appreciated efforts to restrict smoking, but Figures’ bill went too far.

“It’s not the role of government to tell restaurants how they can run their businesses,” Glover said.

Pittman said he would propose amendments in the Senate to exempt small businesses where only family members work and bars and restaurants after 10 p.m. By that time, families have left restaurants, he said.

In the past in the House, bars have pushed for an exemption from the smoking ban. The Alabama Restaurant Association has advocated equal treatment of both types of businesses.

Pittman said his 10 p.m. proposal represents an effort at compromising.