Restaurant group wants public vote on smoking ban - - Tulsa, OK - News, Weather, Video and Sports - |

Restaurant group wants public vote on smoking ban

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ The Oklahoma Restaurant Association wants a public vote on banning smoking in all public places, but with a stipulation that the proposal pass by 60% of the vote or more.

Benny Vanatta, ORA lobbyist, said Wednesday that the proposed referendum would call for ``a total ban on smoking'' in public places, as opposed to singling out the restaurant industry for the prohibition.

He said he is confident the ORA can find legislative sponsors for a referendum that would require a super majority for approval. The ORA wants the plan sent to a vote as proposed, with no changes, Vanatta said.

Dr. Leslie Beitsch, Oklahoma health commissioner said the proposal would be doomed because it is so broad and carries a super majority requirement.

``Clearly their intent is to put on the ballot a proposal that is destined to failure,'' Beitsch said.

He said the ORA has the support of big tobacco in fighting the health agency's efforts to curb smoking in restaurants.

Vanatta said ORA members have been unfairly burdened financially by having to go to court to block Health Department rules on smoking.

Vanatta said the requirement of a two-thirds majority is a concession to 30 to 35% of ORA members who favor allowing customers to smoke.

Under current Oklahoma law, restaurants can have smoking sections or ban smoking altogether.

Members of the ORA sued this year, saying Health Department rules further restricting smoking usurped legislative authority. The restaurant owners won their case in Creek County District court.

Vanatta argued that many restaurant owners would support a total ban and predict the proposal would have ``a very good chance'' of passing the Legislature.

He said a defeat of the ban would not necessarily settle the matter, but would be ``a great indication to the Legislature of what the people would like to have.''

Beitsch said if the ORA were serious, it would drop the super majority stipulation, scale down the bill and submit it as a constitutional amendment.

He said state health agency is not giving up on its efforts to expand smoking rules to apply to more public places, including restaurants.

``We're drawing a line in the sand on the smoking issue,'' Beitsch said, pointing to data showing that Oklahomans' health is suffering because of smoking.
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