Creek County judge says "No" to Oklahoma's new no smoking rules

Tuesday, July 23rd 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

A Creek County District Court judge holds off the start of new rules that would practically eliminate smoking in restaurants.

The decision means restaurants can still allow smoking inside, pending the outcome of a lawsuit. News on Six reporter Emory Bryan says the ruling came out Tuesday afternoon. The judge decided the Oklahoma State Board of Health overstepped its authority - making rules that are the responsibility of the legislature.

But while it's not the law, many restaurants are going - and plan to stay - smoke free. There's something missing for the lunch crowd at Spaghetti Warehouse - a smoking section, but no one seems to miss it. Diner, Mike Overall, "I think it's great, I think they should do it all over Tulsa."

After ten years of asking diners what they preferred - the restaurant decided going smoke free wouldn't hurt business and the manager says he hasn't had a single complaint. Steve Goldman with Spaghetti Warehouse: "We've seen no repercussions at all, we've had a lot of people say thank you very much."

The state health department created rules that would have made it almost impossible for restaurants like this to serve smokers - requiring completely separate air conditioning and walled off smoking areas.

A judge decided those rules couldn't be enforced. But the decision by individual restaurants to ban smoking - seems reasonable to these non-smoking diners. Diner, Precilla Rogers, "In a place this big, they could have it in a separate area, but in a lot of places, if smoking is just over that wall, I could still smell it and I think if affects the way my food tastes.”

And surprisingly - banning smoking in restaurants is reasonable even for some smokers. John Osborne with Goldies: "If you can't go into a restaurant and wait till you leave to smoke, maybe you need to quit." Some employees at Goldies have to take their puffs outside - because their restaurant, and their workplace, went smoke free. Dana Clark with Goldies: "I don't think it's affected us a whole lot, because I'm the cook and I've still been cooking quite a bit."

Here's how we got to this point - the legislature considered, but failed to act on a restaurant smoking ban. So the health department created and the governor signed a new set of rules on smoking. A lawsuit was filed the next day - an injunction delaying the rules followed - and Tuesday the rules were permanently blocked. They were to have taken effect August 1st.

Pending the outcome of the lawsuit - and a promised appeal from the state, restaurants can still decide how they can best serve smokers and non-smokers.