Teton, Wyoming - judge rejects county smoking ban..

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February 17, 2011 - A judge’s decision to strike down Teton County’s public smoking ban will not affect the effort to adopt workplace smoking restrictions in the Casper area, the group organizing the effort said Thursday, February 10th.

District Judge Timothy Day ruled Wednesday, February 9th Teton County’s health board exceeded its authority when it enacted the public smoking ban. Day also concluded the board’s actions violated the separation of powers provision of the Wyoming Constitution.

Opponents of the ban sued the health board after it enacted the Smokefree Air Rule in March 2009. They included the Wyoming State Liquor Association and The Virginian Saloon, a Jackson bar that allowed smoking. (Teton, Wyoming District Board of Health unanimously approved a countywide smoking ban in March 2009)

The Casper-Natrona County Board of Health cited the lawsuit when it voted against pursuing its own workplace smoking ban in November. Some board members worried enacting such an ordinance could prompt a similar lawsuit challenging their authority.

After the November meeting, Smokefree Natrona County — the group that asked the health board to pursue a workplace restriction — said it would focus on city-level regulations. Day’s ruling won’t alter the group’s approach, said campaign manager Rachael Bailey.

“We always knew this was a possibility, and it’s really not going to change our campaign moving forward,” she said. “We are still moving toward asking the city councils in Casper, Mills and Evansville to consider passing a regulation.”

In his ruling, Day wrote that the correlation between second-hand smoke and disease was a “matter beyond reasonable controversy.” But, he added, the case turned on the authority of the board to adopt a smoking ban, rather than the health effects of smoking.

“In the case of the Smokefree Air Rule, a local, unelected board is, in effect, legislating a new criminal offense in the absence of an explicit standard from either the state Department of Health or the Wyoming Legislature, and it does so with no oversight from any elected official or body,” the ruling states. “This impermissibly circumvents the legislative process, and it precludes public participation and the checks and balances in the legislative process.”

A bill that would have given county commissions and local health boards the power to enact public smoking bans died in the Legislature last month. Lawmakers have also rejected past attempts to adopt a statewide public smoking ban.

Reference: Judge rejects Teton County smoking ban by JOSHUA WOLFSON (josh.wolfson@trib.com), Star-Tribune staff writer, TRIB.com, 2/11/2011.