Delaware, Florida Move to Restrict Smoking

 

Delaware recently became the second state to ban smoking in the workplace, following California's landmark legislation in 1994, and Florida is expected to follow suit soon. The passage of Delaware's ban surprised opponents, who thought the issue wouldn't resonate beyond the West Coast.

"People looked at California but never thought it would come to the east coast. Delaware was a tough state to fall because it's basically a conservative, East Coast state. I think we'll see other states following Delaware's lead," said Carrie Leishman, president of the Delaware Restaurant Association, a group that opposed the smoking ban.

Indoor smoking bans are becoming a battleground in the fight against tobacco.

Although they've yet to go statewide beyond California, Florida and Delaware, they're popping up in more and more municipalities. In recent weeks, leaders in Boston and New York City announced plans to enact sweeping workplace smoking bans that include bars and restaurants.

Those two cities will join 231 other municipalities nationwide with workplace smoking bans, 63 of which include restaurants and bars. Chicago and Dallas are considering similar bans.

Policy analysts suspect the growing number of municipal ordinances will pave the way for further state action.

"The ground that Boston, New York City and Delaware are breaking will pave the way for other cities and states to follow suit," said Tim Filler, associate director of the American Nonsmokers' Rights Foundation, a national lobbying organization based in Berkeley, Calif.

California's 1994 ban was incrementally implemented from 1995 to 1998. But before the policy went statewide, similar bans were already in place in many localities. Filler says they helped lay the groundwork for state legislation. Delaware's Gov. Ruth Ann Minner signed the most stringent statewide smoking ban in the country into effect November 27. Restaurants, bars and casinos are all included. The law was motivated by the state's tobacco-related cancer death rate, the third highest in the country.

Unlike California, Delaware had been subject to preemption laws, under which municipal governments couldn't implement their own non-smoking policies. Eighteen other states are also subject to such laws and must rely on statewide policies, according to Filler.

Another victory for non-smokers' rights came at the November elections, when more than 70 percent of Florida voters approved a state constitutional amendment to protect people from second hand smoke. The enacting legislation has yet to be drafted, but the ballot measure exempts stand-alone bars.

Analysts say the issue was driven more by the public than by Florida policymakers.

"Florida was trying for years to get it done at the legislative level, but they had to get it done at the ballot level instead," said Chris Bostic, manager of policy analysis at the American Lung Association. Bostic said lawmakers at all levels, all across the country will be closely watching the Sunshine State during the next legislative session.

Every state except Alabama has some form of clean indoor air law. A few states strengthened these laws in 2002, but no changes were as drastic as those in Delaware, Leslie Robbins, a policy specialist at the National Conference of State Legislatures, said.

  • In Oklahoma, Gov. Frank Keating signed a bill banning smoking in most indoor work areas, including the state capitol. The ban, which went into effect in July, still allows smoking in one "well-ventilated" room in state buildings.
  • South Dakota Gov. Bill Janklow signed a measure prohibiting smoking in public places or workplaces, exempting worksites with liquor or casino licenses. The law, which also became effective in July, exempts hotel rooms and some tobacco and liquor stores.
  • New Mexico passed a bill banning smoking in the state capitol.
  • In Minnesota, workplaces will have to go smoke-free or install proper ventilation equipment by September, according to rules announced in December by the Minnesota Department of Health. However, restaurants, hotels and hospitality businesses remain exempt.
  • And in Michigan, Gov. John Engler signed a bill mandating that the department of corrections clearly designate smoking areas for inmates and staff at each facility.

  • Non-smoking regulations failed in 21 states.

    Smoking bans inevitably ignite protest from restaurant owners, the tobacco industry some smokers and bar owners who say personal freedoms are being snuffed out and it's bad for business.

    "We've always been against the smoking ban. We're against government intervention in our businesses and we're for equal accommodation. You won't find a restaurant association that's for them," Leishman said.

    Leishman said some smokers in Delaware are driving across state lines to Maryland or Atlantic City, N.J., to evade the tough laws and puff as they please. Bar owners worry this could cripple their business, especially in light of an already dismal economy.

    It's too early to measure the economic impact of the Delaware ban, but Leishman says it's hurting bar and tavern owners. Anti-smoking advocates say that in the long run the bans won't hurt businesses.
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