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FOR RELEASE: March 14, 2002
CONTACT: Dick Gunn
405/271-5601

State Board of Health Moves to Make Oklahoma's Public Places Smoke-Free

The State Board of Health today exercised its legal authority to protect the public from toxic and hazardous substances that can cause disease by adopting rules to eliminate exposure to secondhand smoke in most public places and workplaces.

"Established science makes it abundantly clear that secondhand smoke is a toxic and hazardous substance to humans of all ages, causing cancer and other life threatening illnesses in those exposed, and thus exposure to it must be limited to the lowest possible levels," said Board President Dr. Ron Graves.

"Our actions continue an authority that began 112 years ago with the first Territorial Board of Health, which was authorized to '…make and enforce any and all needful rules and regulations for the prevention and cure of diseases…' he said. "Our purpose has always been to protect the public health and secondhand smoke is a public health issue. We believe all Oklahomans have the right not to be exposed to this toxic and hazardous substance."

Scientific evidence has mounted in recent years establishing secondhand smoke as a cause of illness and death in nonsmokers. At least 300,000 to 400,000 workers in Oklahoma are subject to worksite exposure to secondhand smoke. About 750 nonsmoking Oklahomans die each year from their exposure to secondhand smoke.

The rules provide a uniform standard to protect persons inside the workplace and in public places from secondhand smoke. They apply to enclosed indoor spaces inside buildings, not outdoor areas. However, to help ensure that persons can enter the building without having to pass though smoke, smoking would not be allowed within 15 feet of the main entrance.

Graves said the Board reviewed scientific research which documented that places in which smoking occurs cannot have a true smoke-free area because of inadequacies within standard building ventilation systems. The Board determined the only way to ensure protection of the health of nonsmoking persons is to have entirely nonsmoking places.

Graves emphasized that the Board's actions were not meant to penalize smokers. "We are not against the smokers, only the smoke," he said. "Most smokers understand that their right to smoke does not extend to imposing their smoke on others. We simply ask that when they choose to smoke, they step outside."

Public opinion polls indicate that most smokers agree that nonsmokers shouldn't have to face the health hazards of cigarette smoke at work or in other public places.

Graves said the Board recognizes that most smokers want to quit smoking, and as a result, the Oklahoma State Department of Health has formally requested that the first monies distributed from the Tobacco Settlement Trust Fund be used to support a statewide toll-free "quitline" and other proven cessation aids.

Secondhand smoke is often more toxic than the smoke inhaled by a smoker directly from a cigarette. At least 40 chemicals in secondhand smoke cause cancer. Recent studies indicate breathing secondhand smoke for just 30 minutes reduces cardiovascular health. For those who suffer from asthma, secondhand smoke can cause immediate respiratory danger by triggering attacks. Children are especially vulnerable to secondhand smoke. Their lungs are smaller and their immune systems less developed, making them more likely to develop respiratory illnesses and ear infections when exposed to secondhand smoke.

"We recognize that not everyone will agree with the Board of Health on this issue," Graves said, "but we are earnest in our resolve to protect the fundamental rights of all Oklahomans not to be exposed to toxic and hazardous substances."

The rules will now be sent to the Oklahoma Legislature and Gov. Keating for dual consideration.

For more information about secondhand smoke, check out the information on this Web site: http://www.health.state.ok.us/program/tobac/events.htm.

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