Oklahoma House passes ban on smoking in Capitol, other state buildings

Wednesday, April 10th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Oklahoma's State Capitol moved closer to becoming smoke free Tuesday when the state House passed legislation to ban smoking there and in other state government buildings.

House members voted 82-14 for the measure before sending it on to the Senate. The measure's House co-author, Rep. Ray Vaughn, urged senators to swiftly pass the measure and send it to Gov. Frank Keating for his signature.

``If they would do that in the next few days, we could have a smoke-free Capitol by the end of the week,'' said Vaughn, R-Edmond. Currently, lawmakers are permitted to smoke in their state Capitol offices.

The bill bans smoking in state buildings but permits agencies to build designated smoking areas that have separate ventilation systems and are not used to conduct public business.

The measure also prohibits smoking within 25 feet of a state government building and allows county and municipal governments to enact similar smoking bans. The bill exempts portions of state lodges.

House members passed the bill following a close procedural vote on a motion by Vaughn to advance the measure and bypass two proposed amendments that would have strengthened rules that pre-empt state agencies, including the Board of Health, from passing smoking rules that conflict with state law.

Vaughn said the pre-emption language ``is a bad public policy when it comes to smoking.''

Last month, the Board of Health adopted rules to ban smoking in restaurants and most other public places. The rules were disapproved by Keating and a House committee last week.

The measure is the latest round in a public debate over smoking in public buildings and places and the dangers of secondhand smoke, which tests have shown contain cancer-causing chemicals.

Rep. Bill Graves, R-Oklahoma City, described the tests as ``pseudoscience'' and said he disagrees with mandating a smoking ban in the Capitol and other state buildings.

Graves said studies have indicated that secondhand smoke does not present an elevated risk of lung cancer.

``We've really been stampeded by what some people call the health fascists,'' Graves said.

But Vaughn said the dangers of smoking and secondhand smoke have been well documented by scientists.

Health officials say secondhand smoke contains more than 40 cancer-causing compounds and is responsible for the deaths of an estimated 750 people in Oklahoma each year primarily from cancer, heart disease and breathing disorders.

``You know from your own experience what effect secondhand smoke has on you,'' Vaughn said.

Vaughn said a House legislative assistant recently resigned over health conditions aggravated by secondhand smoke.

Other lawmakers have said the Legislature could be liable for health problems experienced by people with allergies or other health conditions who are exposed to secondhand smoke in state buildings.

``We are on a very slippery slope if we do not address this issue now,'' Vaughn said.

The measure is Senate Bill 1553.