Bill would ban smoking in public places

Friday, January 25th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ A state lawmaker who has filed a bill to prohibit smoking in public places says he is willing to revise it to allow for exceptions to the ban.

But a key lawmaker said Thursday that State Rep. Ray Vaughn's bill is dead on arrival.

Rep. Lloyd Fields, D-McAlester, chairman of the House Commerce, Industry and Labor Committee, said he did not intend to give the bill an official hearing during the legislative session, effectively killing the measure.

Fields said the measure would be a ``bind on businesses.'' He said businesses already have the option of prohibiting smoking, noting that several restaurants in his district already restrict smoking.

Vaughn, R-Edmond, said he was disappointed that the House leadership had assigned the bill to Fields' committee rather than the Health Committee. He said he did not consider the commerce committee to be friendly toward tobacco restrictions.

Vaughn's measure would ban smoking in any place that is used by the general public.

``Most Oklahomans want second-hand smoke curtailed,'' Vaughn said. ``The only people you hear opposed are tied to the sale of tobacco products.''

The bill lists several areas covered by the ban, including nursing homes, schools, day care centers, homeless shelters, food banks and adoption agencies. Vaughn said his measure would outlaw smoking in small private businesses, at outdoor events and in all restaurants.

Violators could be fined between $10 and $100.

The bill would amend a 1975 law that Vaughn said recognized lighted tobacco as not only a public nuisance but a danger to public health. The earlier legislation outlawed smoking in elevators, libraries, indoor movie theaters and a few other public places.

Rep. Michael Tyler, D-Sapulpa, questioned a provision that would ban smoking within 25 feet of a building's entrance. An earlier version of the bill banned smoking within 100 feet.

``I'm from a small town and we have small sidewalks. Twenty-five feet is in the middle of the street,'' Tyler said.

Brian Nance, a lobbyist for the Lorillard tobacco company, spoke against the measure, saying the proposal was ``just a little ridiculous.''

A coalition of 19 state health organizations voiced support for the bill. Coalition leader Richard L. Barnes of the American Lung Association told the committee that by enacting the original smoking restriction law in 1975, the Legislature ``said tobacco smoke in public areas is dangerous to public health. Certainly nothing has changed to make it harmless today.''

Barnes said polls show that two out of three Oklahomans ``want something done about secondhand smoke.''

There are an estimated 535,000 Oklahomans with respiratory diseases, Barnes said. ``There are a whole bunch of us who are really ticked off that we can't go into some places simply because of tobacco smoke,'' he said.

Rep. M.C. Leist, D-Morris, agreed that smoking tobacco is a public health issue but said the law is too broad.

``I don't think were adverse to doing something,'' Leist said. ``But I'm not sure the state has all the answers for everybody or should.''

Vaughn said some exceptions may need to be made to the measure after the Legislature convenes on Feb. 4.