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FOR RELEASE: July 23, 2002
CONTACT: Pamela Williams
405/271-5601

State Health Officials Respond to Judge’s Ruling on Secondhand Smoke Rules

Today’s ruling by a Creek County District Judge, which approved a temporary injunction sought by the Oklahoma Restaurant Association against enforcement of the state’s new secondhand smoke rules, will only serve to harm the people of Oklahoma, the Oklahoma State Department of Health said today.

“We believe, as a matter of law, that the plaintiffs failed to provide any evidence of economic harm and therefore did not prove their case,” said State Health Commissioner Dr. Leslie Beitsch. “On the other hand, we provided clear and convincing expert testimony that in 60 studies covering more than 30 communities, states and countries, smoke-free restaurants do not record any economic harm."

Beitsch said state health officials believe Judge Donald Thompson’s order exceeds the issues properly before the District Court. “In essence, the Court has issued a preliminary declaratory judgment. The Court prematurely ruled on the validity of the promulgation and legality of the smoking in public places rules. The judge chose to globally apply his ruling statewide and to other rules not before the court,” he said.

“Although we believe the judge’s action is an unfortunate misinterpretation and misapplication of the law, we will honor the judge’s ruling while we appeal our case to the State Supreme Court,” Beitsch continued. Meanwhile, the citizens of Oklahoma will continue to be exposed to the harmful effects of secondhand smoke, as dictated by the Oklahoma Restaurant Association.”

“For years, we have been asked by a substantial number of individuals and groups to enact reasonable smoking in public places rules that will bring the state into compliance with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act,” Beitsch said. “We believe our rules were promulgated within the scope of the state’s current Smoking in Public Places Act and provide a middle ground that does not unduly disrupt business, while complying with federal laws to protect the public’s health.”

Beitsch said the plaintiffs, Freddie’s Barbeque and Steakhouse, and Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1320, both of Sapulpa, failed to present any clear and convincing evidence that they would suffer any economic harm due to the new smoking rules, which was the basis for their lawsuit. “Both also agreed that secondhand smoke was a Class A carcinogen and dangerous to public health,” Beitsch noted.

Countering one of the arguments proposed by the Oklahoma Restaurant Association, Beitsch said, “This is not a bureaucratic maneuver to infringe on ‘property rights.’ Scientific evidence confirms that secondhand smoke is a health hazard. The public has a right not to be exposed to secondhand smoke if they so choose. Under the new rules, restaurants have the right to select which type of smoking policy option they plan to implement. And the public has the right to be informed about which places are and are not truly smoke free. Then they can choose which restaurants they prefer to patronize.”

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