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FOR RELEASE: June 12, 2002
CONTACT: Dick Gunn
405/271-5601

State Board of Health Moves Again to Address Secondhand Smoke

It is simply about health. That's why the State Board of Health acted last week to limit nonsmokers' exposure to tobacco smoke in numerous enclosed indoor areas.

"Our overriding concern is to protect the health of all Oklahomans," said Board President Dr. Ron Graves. "Three-quarters of our state's citizens are not smokers, yet they are exposed to secondhand smoke in numerous public venues. Many have lost their freedom to travel about freely because they have respiratory conditions that put them at risk of acute reaction to secondhand smoke."

Graves said an important factor in the Board of Health's decision was concern for the 300,000 to 400,000 Oklahoma workers who work in indoor workplaces where smoking is not restricted and thus have no protections against secondhand smoke.

"Scientific evidence confirms that smoke-free policies are effective in reducing exposure to the toxic and hazardous substances in secondhand smoke," Graves said. "We can no longer allow the majority of Oklahomans to pay the price in damage to their health. Just as the Board of Health has food service rules to assure safe food is available to the public, we believe these secondhand smoke rules will help provide Oklahomans with safe air to breathe."

Graves said the Board worked to make certain the rules were consistent with the various laws that provide protections from secondhand smoke exposure. Contrary to statements made recently by some state organizations that the rules interfere with federal law concerning private workplaces, Graves said states can assert jurisdiction over occupational safety or health issues if no federal standard is in effect. In fact, the federal Occupational and Safety Health Administration, when deciding to withdraw their own proposed indoor air regulation in December 2001, stated "most of the activity on workplace smoking restrictions is now taking place at the state and local level."

"Until now, this had not occurred in Oklahoma," Graves noted. "These rules will finally provide a health standard that Oklahoma's employers and other business persons may offer to their workers as a reasonable accommodation required by the Americans with Disabilities Act."

Graves also addressed concerns by business owners on the perceived costs of implementing the rules. "Any costs of implementing the rules will be more than offset by a reduction in potential workers compensation claims, Americans with Disabilities Act lawsuits pursued by nonsmokers injured in the workplace, and the higher costs of health insurance for smokers and nonsmokers alike," he said. "But most important, choosing to be smoke free costs nothing."

Claims by the tobacco industry that smoking restrictions hurt restaurant business are contrary to published studies on the economic impact of smoking restrictions in more than 80 localities in six states, including Texas. These studies demonstrate that smoke-free laws have no negative effect on restaurant sales. "This is a misleading scare tactic that has been used for years by the tobacco industry. It is unfortunate that some in the Oklahoma business community have accepted these claims with no valid evidence to back them up," Graves said. "Internal tobacco industry documents show that the industry's real concern is that smoking restrictions result in fewer cigarettes being smoked and increase the chances of many smokers quitting for good. "

Recent data from the Oklahoma 2002 Adult Tobacco Survey indicate that for every two individuals who currently avoid restaurants that allow smoking, only one individual does not frequent a business because it is smoke free. Multiple statewide polls indicate that the vast majority of Oklahomans who do smoke want to quit.

The rules apply to several areas where smoking will not be allowed indoors or within 15 feet of the entrances or air intakes of a structure, building or enclosure, including indoor workplaces with more than 15 employees. Other areas affected by the rules include adult day care centers, ambulatory surgical centers, birthing centers, pool and billiard halls, educational facilities, restaurants, bingo halls, bowling alleys, and malls and enclosed shopping centers, among others.

"Statewide polling data, as well as numerous resolutions the Board of Health received from major health organizations, including the Oklahoma State Medical Association, Oklahoma Dental Association, and the Oklahoma Public Health Association encouraged us to take this action, and confirm that we are doing the right thing at the right time for the people of Oklahoma," Graves said.

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