Henry signs smoking bill

Friday, June 6th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- Gov. Brad Henry signed legislation Friday that restricts smoking in public places but gives restaurants nearly three years to comply with the new regulations.

He called it "a common-sense, balanced approach" to protecting Oklahomans from the harmful effects of secondhand smoke.

"This piece of legislation will help make Oklahoma a healthier place," Henry said. "It's a pro-family piece of legislation."

Supporters, including representatives of the American Cancer Society and other anti-smoking groups, applauded and cheered as Henry signed the law.

They also credited Oklahoma's health commissioner, Dr. Leslie Beitsch, for raising public awareness about the dangers of secondhand smoke.

Beitsch received a sustained round of applause when he was introduced at the state Capitol ceremony but did not speak.

Secretary of Health Tom Adelson said the smoking regulations are "the most significant public health legislation passed in decades."

"This is not just public places legislation, it's work places legislation," said Richard Barnes of Tulsa, chairman of the Oklahoma Alliance on Health or Tobacco.

The measure's co-author, Rep. Ray Vaughn, R-Edmond, urged restaurants to implement the rules immediately although they do not go into effect for restaurants until March 1, 2006.

The delay was a concession to the Oklahoma Restaurant Association, which went to court last year in a successful effort to sidetrack the Oklahoma Department of Health's efforts to impose a similar ban by rule.

Once the rules take effect, restaurants will have to go smoke free or construct an enclosed and separately ventilated smoking room.

"I think the restaurant industry was concerned with the potential expense involved," Henry said.

Oklahoma ranks 46th in the nation in the overall health of its citizens. State health officials estimate that 750 Oklahomans die prematurely each year due to carcinogens contained in secondhand smoke.

Health experts estimate that tobacco products cost Oklahoma more than $2 billion each year in medical treatment, lost productivity and other factors.

The new law makes Oklahoma the fifth state in the nation to approve statewide smoking restrictions, behind California, New York, Florida and Delaware. In many other states, smoking restrictions are decided on the local level by city and country governments.

In Oklahoma this is not possible as state law prohibits local rules more restrictive than state statutes.

The measure makes it a misdemeanor to light up a cigarette or cigar in indoor workplaces, governmental buildings or most other inside areas where the public is present, effective on Sept. 1. The penalty will be a fine of between $10 and $100.

Exemptions are granted to outdoor seating areas in restaurants, bars, tobacco shops, bingo halls, home-based businesses and other establishments where at least 60 percent of revenue comes from the sale of alcohol or low-point beer.

Also exempt are veteran's organizations and private offices occupied by one person or family that have minimal public access. Smoking will be permitted in up to 25 percent of hotel and motel rooms.