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FOR RELEASE: July 17, 2002
CONTACT: Dick Gunn
405/271-5601

Temporary Restraining Order Won't Halt Smoking Rule Enforcement for All Restaurants

The temporary restraining order issued yesterday by a Creek County District judge does not impact all other restaurants in the state affected by new smoking in public places rules, the Oklahoma State Department of Health said today.

The order only restrains the health department from engaging in any enforcement action against the plaintiffs of a lawsuit filed by the Oklahoma Restaurant Association. Those plaintiffs, Freddie's Barbeque and Steakhouse and the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1320, are both located in Sapulpa.

"While we will abide by this order, we will continue to encourage all other restaurants with a seating capacity of 50 or more to implement the smoking policy option they have selected under the new rules," said State Health Commissioner Dr. Leslie Beitsch.

"We consider the temporary restraining order as another bump in the long road to reduce secondhand smoke exposure in Oklahoma," Beitsch noted. "We believe that the public is no longer ready to support the mean-spirited efforts of a few special interest groups. These groups are clearly out of step with their membership, many of whom have already gone smoke-free."

Beitsch said an overwhelming majority of Oklahomans now expect to enter a safe, smoke-free restaurant. "We encourage the public to insist that their favorite restaurants go smoke-free. Most restaurant owners are sincerely interested in serving their customers and assuring that the health of those customers, as well as their own employees, is protected from the hazards of secondhand smoke."

Arguments offered by special interest groups that this is a business rights issue and not a health issue, are weak, Beitsch said. "Once you invite the public into your business, you must comply with those local, state and federal laws that are in place to protect your customers. These smoking rules are no different than the rules we already have in place to assure that restaurants provide a clean and safe environment and offer safe food."

Restaurants worried about the potential for loss of revenues if they go smoke free should be comforted that in studies conducted on the impact of smoking restrictions on restaurant sales in 81 localities in six states, there has been no adverse effect reported on business revenues.

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

Under the new rules, restaurants with a seating capacity of 50 or more must be "all smoking," "smoke free," or "effectively smoke free." The "effectively smoke free" option requires food establishments to provide a separately ventilated room for smokers to ensure that no smoke migrates into nonsmoking areas.

For more information on the new secondhand smoke rules, call the Oklahoma State Department of Health toll free at 1-866-ONLY AIR, or check out the department's Web site at www.health.state.ok.us.

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