Measure would limit smoking in restaurants

Saturday, May 18th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Dining rooms at Oklahoma restaurants would be smoke free under legislation proposed Friday that has the support of Gov. Frank Keating.

The measure emerged from a legislative conference committee exactly one month after Keating signed a bill that bans smoking in the state Capitol and other state buildings.

Supporters of that measure, including Dr. Leslie M. Beitsch, the state's health commissioner, said it would protect state workers and visitors at the Capitol from the harmful effects of secondhand smoke.

``Our desire to protect the health of patrons in restaurants and employees is precisely the same,'' Beitsch said.

Studies have indicated that secondhand smoke contains more than 4,000 chemicals including at least 250 harmful substances.

Under the proposal, smoking would be banned in restaurants except in separate, self-ventilated rooms.

``Most restaurants would be nonsmoking restaurants,'' Beitsch said. Lounges and barrooms that serve small amounts of food would not be affected.

Keating encouraged lawmakers to support the measure and said he will sign it.

``The time has come to get serious about the issue of annoying and dangerous secondhand smoke in public places, like restaurants,'' Keating said.

The measure's author, Sen. Ben Robinson, D-Muskogee, proposed a ban on smoking in public places, including restaurants, earlier this year that did not receive legislative support.

The Board of Health later adopted rules to ban smoking in restaurants, theaters and other places visited by the public that were disapproved by Keating and the House Administrative Rule Review Committee.

Keating and the committee said the board overstepped its legal authority by adopting rules that conflict with state law. Existing law permits smoking in designated areas.

The bill's House author, Rep. Ray Vaughn, R-Edmond, said the public believes banning smoking at the Capitol did not go far enough.

``I believe the people of Oklahoma don't want to dine in clouds of smoke. This legislation will take care of that problem,'' Vaughn said.

A statewide poll conducted last year by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found that 94 percent of Oklahoma adults and 85 percent of Oklahoma adult smokers believe that smoking in restaurants should only be permitted in rooms where smoke is vented outside, or not allowed at all.

``This is much less controversial than we are making it. It does have a lot of popular support,'' Beitsch said.

The measure could be considered by the Senate as early as Monday. The Legislature is scheduled to adjourn Friday.

The bill would also require the Health Department and the courts to create a statewide data collection system on marriage and divorce.

The measure is Senate Bill 696.