Oklahoma's smoke free loophole

Monday, May 20th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

There is a new effort to clear the air in Oklahoma restaurants. Many already are smoke free - but the Oklahoma Legislature is close to making them all ban smoking - but there's a loophole.

News on six reporter Emory Bryan explains what that loophole is. Restaurants can allow smoking if they have separate rooms with separate ventilation. It would seem to be a political slam-dunk if the legislature banned smoking in restaurants - since most people don't smoke. In Oklahoma - only about 24% of adults light up - but they represent a powerful force in politics. The legislature has a history of avoiding smoking legislation - but this week, there's a chance they'll ban smoking in restaurants.

Darla Akin with the American Lung Association: "They're not telling people they can't smoke any more, just not in a public place where it affects the other patrons." The Lung Association and Cancer Society are naturally supportive of the ban - but they face powerful opposition from the tobacco lobby and the restaurant association.

Greg McGill is a Tulsa restaurateur and former head of the association. "I know that 25 percent of people here in Oklahoma smoke. I don't want to take a risk of losing 25 percent of my customers." He's installed filters to help improve the air - but the bill in the legislature require smoking areas to be in separate rooms with separate ventilation - otherwise all smoking must be banned. McGill says that's going too far. "My customers tell me what to do, I don't need someone from Oklahoma City telling me what to do that's for sure."

While many independent restaurants allow smoking in designated areas - most chain restaurants do not. Supporters of the ban claim it doesn't cut into a restaurants business - but the industry doesn't want to chance alienating customers. For the public health groups involved, it's an easy decision to let smokers light up where they want, except when it impacts the health of others. Akin, "smoking in a major asthma trigger and it is detrimental to many people with lung disease."

The restaurant smoking bill will face its toughest opposition in the state House where it's expected to be taken up Wednesday.