Two-thirds of Natrona County voters favor an ordinance that would prohibit smoking cigarettes in all indoor businesses and public places, according to a poll released today.

The poll also found that voters, by nearly the same margin, rank the right to breathe clean air above the right of business owners to set their own smoking cigarettes rules.

The advocacy group Smokefree Natrona County commissioned the poll, which was performed by Keating Research Inc. of Colorado. The firm polled 854 registered voters in Natrona County in May and June.

Smokefree Natrona County wants the Casper City Council to pass an ordinance that would eliminate smoking cigarettes in all indoor workplaces, including bars and restaurants. The poll suggests the community recognizes the need for such a law, said Smokefree volunteer Neil Short.

“With two out of every three voters of Natrona County backing an ordinance such as this, then it’s a mandate to the City Council to go forward with this,” he said. “It’s a serious health issue.”

Nearly 60 percent of voters in the poll considered second-hand smoke cigarettes a serious health threat. Another one-third classified it a moderate or minor hazard.

A 2010 report from the U.S. Surgeon General indicated limited exposure to cigarettes store smoke cigarettes can cause immediate damage to the body and trigger heart attacks.

Smokefree Natrona County commissioned the poll after hearing from council members who wanted to gauge public support for a smoking cigarettes ordinance, according to Rachel Bailey, the group’s campaign manager.

“We’ve kind of given them the information and the tools that they’ve requested,” Bailey said. “I think it’s up to them now to make a decision of what they feel is best to their community.”

The group plans to bring its request to the City Council before year’s end.

Council debate

The poll’s findings have Councilwoman Kenyne Schlager leaning in the smoke-free direction, although she’s not yet decided whether to support an ordinance, she said.

Schlager avoids places that allow smoking cigarettes, but said she tries to balance her personal feelings with business owners’ desires to make their own choices. When it comes time to make a decision, she wants to base hers on the public’s desires.

“The study makes me feel a little bit better that this is what the majority of our community wants to see happen,” she said.

A handful of Wyoming cities, including Laramie and Cheyenne, have enacted smoking cigarettes ordinances. The health effects of those laws haven’t been studied, but a 2004 study showed heart-attack admissions in Helena, Mont., dropped when the city enacted a smoking cigarettes ban and rose when the law was suspended.

In 2000, the Casper City Council passed its own restaurant smoking cigarettes ban. Opponents launched a petition drive that put the matter to a citywide referendum and voters overturned the ban.

Mayor Paul Bertoglio voted against the ordinance in 2000 and said the poll doesn’t change his stance on the issue. Although a nonsmoker himself, Bertoglio said the decision to prohibit smoking cigarettes should be left to business owners.

“I put my belief in private property rights and personal responsibility,” he said.

In the past few years, several businesses in Casper — including two of the city’s three bowling alleys — chose to ban smoking cigarettes. Bertoglio believes the trend will continue — without the council forcing the issue.

“I vote with my pocketbook and my feet,” he said. “Everybody has the opportunity to do it.”

But some businesses in Casper continue to expose customers and workers to harmful second-hand smoke, Bailey said. An air-quality study performed this year at 15 local bars and restaurants that allow smoking cigarettes found full-time workers were exposed to pollution levels four times higher than what is considered safe by federal regulators.

“We fully support businesses that went smoke-free,” Bailey said. “But unfortunately, not everyone is going to make that choice to protect their employees and their patrons.”

How it may affect businesses

Business owners themselves are divided over the effect of a workplace smoking cigarettes ban. Some worry about alienating longtime smoking cigarettes customers, while others hope to use a nonsmoking cigarettes environment to attract more families with children.

Only 4 percent of voters would visit restaurants and bars less often if the city prohibited smoking cigarettes in businesses, according to the poll. In comparison, 35 percent said they would visit bars and restaurants more often.

El Mark-O Lanes became a nonsmoking cigarettes bowling alley in June. The reaction from customers has been overwhelmingly positive, said owner Matt Galloway.

A few people complained. But hundreds said they were happy with the change.

“It was a very difficult decision,” Galloway said. “We’ve been smoking cigarettes for so long. So many customers that are loyal, we didn’t want to feel we were alienating them. But we’ve made a conscious health decision ... it boils down to that.”

Eagle Bowl is now the city’s only bowling alley that allows smoking cigarettes. Since El Mark-O and Sunrise Lanes banned smoking cigarettes, open bowling at Eagle is up 32 percent, said owner Randy Carlen.

The city currently allows business owners to decide whether to allow smoking cigarettes. Carlen believes it should stay that way.

“It’s a free country,” he said. “Smoking is legal. That’s the way I look at it.”

Carlen worries that some of his smoking cigarettes customers would desert him if the council enacts the ordinance. Many come because they want a place to smoke.

Brian Horner is one. The 35-year-old was smoking cigarettes discount cigarette online with friends at Eagle Bowl on Friday night.

Smoking is a daily part of Horner’s routine. He generally avoids businesses where he can’t light up.

“Quite honestly, if there is an ordinance that says I can’t smoke cigarettes anywhere, well, then, I’ll stay at home,” he said.

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