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State Health Officials To Seek Wider Smoking Ban In Oklahoma

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Associated Press

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- Anti-smoking advocates called on lawmakers Thursday to make bars and restaurants in Oklahoma smoke-free by closing loopholes in the state law restricting smoking in public places.

Officials from the American Heart Association and the state Department of Health said they will support legislation next year to ban smoking in bars and restaurants, similar to a bill that died in the Oklahoma House last spring.

Oklahoma was among the first states in the nation to regulate smoking in public places in 2003. But the legislation allows smoking in separate smoking rooms in restaurants and stand-alone bars. When the bill died in the House last spring, Rep. John Trebilcock, R-Broken Arrow, chairman of the House Public Health Committee, said he was not inclined to give it a hearing because of the investment restaurants had made to comply with state smoking restrictions.

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Since Oklahoma's law went into effect, 27 other states have adopted comprehensive smoke-free laws that ban smoking in public places, said Marilyn Davidson, government relations director for the American Heart Association in Oklahoma City.

Davidson said the bill will protect restaurant and nightclub patrons from the harmful effects of second-hand smoke, which she said kills 38,000 people a year and increases the risk of coronary heart disease by 25 percent to 30 percent.

"It's just about health over money," said Dr. Alan Blum, a family medicine professor at the University of Alabama and director of the Center for the Study of Tobacco and Society.

Blum said smoking is the leading preventable cause of death and disease. A report released earlier this month by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies in Washington said studies have shown a decrease in the rate of heart attacks after a smoking ban was implemented.

But some Oklahoma restaurant and nightclub owners have opposed an outright ban on smoking, claiming it would have a negative impact on their business.

"We view this as a health issue, not a private property issue," Davidson said.

She said anti-smoking advocates are sympathetic with restaurant owners who spent thousands of dollars to build enclosed ventilated smoking rooms to comply with the 2003 law. But they are more concerned with the health of the people who work in those rooms.

Jim Hopper, president and CEO of Oklahoma Restaurant Association, did not immediately return a telephone call seeking comment on the proposed smoking ban.

Blum said the restaurant association is influenced by big tobacco companies that have historically opposed smoking bans and restrictions in public places.

"The fingerprints of the tobacco industry are all over them," he said. "We want to make it much harder on restaurants that don't care about public health."

Blum held up an oversized image of a $5 bill, about the cost of a pack of cigarettes, and criticized opponents of smoking bans for putting profits over health interests.

"It's all they care about. It's their blood money," Blum said. 

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