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Smoke-free dining guides to be released

(OKLAHOMA CITY) - Diners wanting to enjoy their meals in a smoke-free environment will soon have a guide to help them choose in which restaurants to eat.

Smoke-free dining guides will be published for Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Edmond, Shawnee, Enid, Lawton and McAlester.

``By putting a stop to smoking, restaurants want to attract customers with families, and to avoid workers' compensation claims by protecting the health of their employees,'' said Sue Ellis, coordinator of the Students Working Against Tobacco chapter in Edmond.

Tiffeani James, western Oklahoma coordinator for the American Lung Association, said it's a matter of economics why more restaurants are going smoke-free.

``They're making smart business decisions. Smokers tend to smoke and talk, creating a really slow customer-turnover rate,'' James said. ``Restaurants that allow smoking also have to paint their walls more often, and replace carpets and linens sooner.

``Customers want a smoke-free environment. The time is right for a change.''

But some restaurant operators aren't so sure.

``We feel uncomfortable telling our customers what they can or can't do. We want to make our customers' experience a pleasant one,'' said Terry Holden, marketing director for Braum's, which has 100 stores in Oklahoma.

Each Braum's store manager has the choice on whether to prohibit smoking or establish smoking sections, Holden said.

Lupe Lovin, owner of Lupe's Mexican Restaurant in Midwest City, hasn't banned smoking in her restaurant for fear of losing customers.

``If I was a big corporate restaurant, I wouldn't care if we were completely smoke-free. But we're a small operation. We have to survive and make a living,'' Lovin said. ``A lot of people don't care one way or the other, but I'd lose business _ business would fall off _ if I went smoke-free.''

Oklahoma City restaurateur Rick Strack made his RJ's Cafe smoke-free three years ago after a physical examination indicated second-hand smoke threatened his health.

Strack said breakfast and lunchtime business has noticeably increased since RJ's Cafe went smoke free.

Customers no longer linger at tables while smoking after-meal cigarettes, he said, and yellow nicotine stains on the walls don't have to be cleaned twice a year.

Amber Jaworsky, spokeswoman for the Oklahoma chapter of the American Lung Association in Tulsa, said restaurants won't go out of business if they go smoke-free.

``Sure, it's a scary situation for many restaurants to even consider going smoke-free,'' Jaworsky said. ``They don't want to turn away customers.''

Yet, restaurants that deeply consider all aspects of the tobacco issue, Jaworsky said, ``will see that they won't lose profits ... because customers appreciate going into a healthy environment and not having to breathe any second-hand smoke.''

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