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FOR RELEASE: 9-2-2004
CONTACT: Pamela Williams
Office of Communications
405/271-5601

Oklahoma Observes First Smokefree Year – But Many Still Unprotected from Secondhand Smoke

One year following the enactment of new secondhand smoke laws in Oklahoma, state health officials say they are pleased that overall acceptance and compliance have been excellent, but continue to be concerned about thousands of restaurant workers and customers who are not yet protected from the effects of secondhand smoke.

The new indoor smoking laws took effect Sept. 1, 2003.

“Public support appears to be stronger than ever for these new laws, which provide for smokefree environments inside most workplaces and public places and in public transportation,” said State Health Commissioner Dr. Michael Crutcher.

The laws provide few exemptions that allow smoking in certain types of places. The exemption affecting the greatest number of people is the restaurant exemption, which expires March 1, 2006. Restaurant workers and nonsmoking patrons in restaurants that have not gone smokefree continue to be unprotected from secondhand smoke.

“We congratulate the many restaurants and chains in Oklahoma that have already chosen to protect their employees and customers by going smokefree,” noted Crutcher. “For those restaurants that are undecided, we strongly encourage them to adopt totally smokefree policies as soon as possible. Thousands of food service workers are employed in Oklahoma restaurants that permit smoking, and most Oklahomans patronize restaurants at least occasionally. While this exemption stands for the next 18 months, the sooner the transition is made by these restaurants to smokefree environments, the better it will be for the health of their employees and customers.”

Crutcher suggested that the public could also encourage the restaurants they frequent to go smokefree. Repeated economic studies have demonstrated that when states and locales implement smokefree policies, restaurant revenues do not decline, and in many cases, they actually increase.

The Oklahoma State Department of Health has processed 445 complaints in the first year of the new laws, involving 256 locations. The majority of the complaints received were during the first two months after the law became effective. An estimated 90,000 indoor public places and workplaces were addressed under the new laws.

“We have focused on education in our compliance activities, and the response has been gratifying, with most places complying when these complaints have been called to their attention,” Crutcher said.

The laws are a result of scientific evidence indicating that secondhand smoke exposure is especially harmful to nonsmokers, and that it can cause lung cancer and other cancers, heart disease and respiratory disease. More than 700 deaths each year in Oklahoma are attributable to the effects of secondhand smoke.

Based on major medical findings, including a published warning from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Oklahoma health officials issued a public alert in April 2004 stating that all Oklahomans at increased risk for heart disease or with known heart disease should avoid places where smoking is allowed indoors.

For more information on the laws, visit this Web site: www.breatheeasyok.com; or contact the Oklahoma State Department of Health by mail: Tobacco Use Prevention Service, 1000 N.E. 10th St., Oklahoma City, OK 73117; or call 1-866-ONLY AIR (1-866-665-9247) and leave a message.

Complaints regarding observed violations of the laws may be filed by calling the toll-free line or through county health departments statewide.

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