By ROB W. ANDERSON
A bill that would have enabled Oklahoma cities and towns to create their own anti-smoking laws was recently defeated by a State Senate committee.
SB 36 was put to ashes by a 6-2 vote in February, and the measure is now off the table for the remainder of the 54th legislative session. Tennessee is the only other state that does not allow cities or towns to enact local-control ordinances tougher than those set by state government.
Currently, Oklahoma law bans smoking in most public buildings and locations, such as school campuses, hospitals, office buildings, city parks and other areas. The law does, however, allow smoking inside bars and eating establishments equipped with special ventilated rooms.
Anti-smoking advocates believe cities and towns should have the option to construct even tougher local laws, while the bill’s opponents say it would be unfair to businesses that spent money building special rooms, or consider a lit cigarette as part of the option the business offers its patrons.
Communities of Excellence Coordinator Carol Choate noted the purpose of the law is to protect the public from second-hand smoke. Returning local rights to Oklahoma municipalities is an effort to let communities decide where they want smoking allowed, rather than letting state government make that decision, she said.
“Tahlequah and Hulbert recently passed a resolution supporting local rights, thus supporting a healthier community through tobacco control,” she said. “Oklahoma is one of only two states in the nation that still has pre-emption. Unfortunately, the bill ‘Smoking in Public Places and Indoor Workplaces Act’ was voted down in committee, even though our governor announced this year that she has ‘Restoring Local Rights’ as one of her top priorities.
Choate pointed out the tobacco industry is very active in lobbying legislators to vote against local rights.
“Banning smoking in public places affects their bottom line. This is all about second-hand smoke exposure,” she said. “When we delay passage of this bill, another 700 Oklahomans will die this year from second-hand smoke exposure.”
People who frequent bars or lounges expect the environment to present ash trays and the smell of burnt tobacco, said Dewaine’s Place employee Danny Northington.
“It seems like to me smoking goes along with drinking,” he said. “[Banning] it would hurt business. I know people who don’t smoke at home, but do when they come down here.”
Northington said an attic fan is used for ventilation at Dewaine’s when a customer complains about the air’s being too thick.
“The truth about it is, usually, the people complaining about the smoke are the ones sitting there smoking,” he said. “We’ve got an attic fan, and we’ll turn that on to clear the smoke.”
Tahlequah Elks Lodge Event Coordinator Connie Parnell said smoking is allowed in the building, but the option is suspended during Friday night dinner hours between 5:30 and 8:30 p.m.
“We really haven’t had a lot of complaints, but we do have smoke-eaters or smoke purifiers that run constantly,” she said. “We have more people who say they like to come out [to the lodge] because they don’t have to go outside and freeze to smoke.”
Brewdog’s employee Aaron Palmer said customers are allowed to smoke in the live-music venue, and banning smoking might hurt business a bit.
“[We don’t have an attic] fan, but we keep doors open when there’s a lot of people [in the building],” he said. “There is a back area where you can go outside to get away from the smoke.”
Ned’s owner Gary Kirkpatrick said his establishment is equipped with a smoke-ventilation system to address the high number of tobacco users who frequent the bar. But he believes people would adjust to not having that option if the ban were expanded to include bars and other like locations.
Kirkpatrick said Ned’s is considering the addition of a beer garden to give customers a smoking area, if the ban comes to pass.
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