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FOR RELEASE: July 11, 2002
CONTACT: Pamela Williams
405/271-5601

Restaurants Choosing to go Smoke Free

Oklahoma State Department of Health officials say they are encouraged by the indication that many restaurants have chosen to become totally nonsmoking as a result of new secondhand smoke rules.

Health officials say that calls and inquiries to the state health department and local county health departments suggest many restaurants have already decided to become totally nonsmoking.

Rules designed to protect Oklahomans from the health hazards of secondhand smoke in public places and workplaces went into effect July 1, although the state health department offered a 30-day transition period to provide reasonable notice and education to reach compliance.

Health officials warn that restaurants should not ignore the new rules during this transition period; rather, they should use the time wisely to implement the smoking policy option they have selected.

Restaurant patrons can also use this time to express their smoking policy preference to the management of their favorite restaurants. In Oklahoma, recent data from the 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.

Under the new rules, restaurants that have a seating capacity of 50 or more must be "all smoking," smoke free," or "effectively smoke free" food establishments. "Effectively smoke free" means the restaurant will provide a separately ventilated room for smokers to ensure that no smoke migrates into nonsmoking areas. Otherwise, the restaurant must be either all smoking or all nonsmoking.

Oklahoma restaurant owners and operators who remain uncertain about incorporating smoke-free policies within their establishments might take a look at the experience of their neighbors to the south.

Currently, 22 cities in Texas have some form of a clean indoor air ordinance. An additional dozen cities are working toward policy limiting secondhand smoke in enclosed public places. A recently published study by the Texas Department of Health, which analyzed sales tax data in communities with smoke-free ordinances, found no adverse economic effect to restaurants in those communities.

The Texas study mirrors similar studies on the economic impact of smoking restrictions on restaurant sales for 81 localities in six states. All used objective sales tax data to assess economic impact and all have been consistent in demonstrating that policies restricting smoking in restaurants have no detrimental effect on revenues.

Also consistent in these localities were predictions raised by the tobacco industry, restaurant associations and other groups that claimed local businesses would be negatively impacted by the smoke-free policies. Restaurants that do go smoke free, however, may save money by increasing productivity, lowering maintenance and cleaning costs, lowering insurance costs, and reducing potential legal liability - all reasons that make good health sense, good legal sense and good dollars and cents.

Information concerning the new secondhand smoke rules can be obtained by calling the Oklahoma State Department of Health toll free at 1-866-ONLY AIR (1-866-665-9247). This toll-free line is automated with a recorded message, but callers may leave a telephone number to receive a personal call back. Information is also available at local county health departments or by checking the department's Web site at www.health.state.ok.us.

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