If you want to pick a sure-fire emotional political issue,
consider restricting people's right to smoke.
Rep. Ray Vaughn, R-Edmond, did just that when he requested an
interim legislative study on banning all smoking in restaurants.
This week, the House Commerce, Industry and Labor Committee met
to consider the proposal.
Those in favor of a ban cited the health hazard to restaurant
employees. Those opposed to a ban cited the health hazard to
their livelihood in the restaurant business.
Rep. Gary Stottlemyre, D-Tulsa, had his own solution: "If
you're all that concerned, why don't you just ban non-smokers
Vaughn hasn't drafted any legislation at this point. He said
the purpose of the study was to take a reading on people's
feelings about such a law. Some people at the meeting read the
Representatives of the American Cancer Society said the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency classified second-hand smoke as a
Class A carcinogen, or cancer-causing substance. People who are
regularly subjected to second-hand smoke are at a 30 percent
higher risk for cancer, according to Dr. James Geyer.
Oklahoma will have 2,400 new cases of lung cancer this year
and 2,100 deaths from lung cancer, he said. Cigarette smoke
contains 4,000 chemical compounds and five known human
carcinogens, he said.
Restaurant employees are the group most exposed to second-hand
smoke in the workplace. Geyer said one study in California showed
that waitresses had the highest mortality rate among women's
Cherie Cobb, representing the American Lung Association, said
waiters, waitresses and bartenders had a 50 percent greater
chance of developing cancer. On the other hand, diners have a
choice of where they want to eat, she said.
Just dividing a room into smoking and non-smoking sections
doesn't accomplish anything, according to Cobb. The smoking area
must be a room that's ventilated to the outside, to be really
Rep. Laura Boyd, D-Norman said some restaurant owners in her
district wondered if smoking would be banned from restaurant bar
areas. If smoking was allowed in bar areas under any proposed
law, it could discriminate against restaurants that didn't have a
bar, she said.
Aubrey King of Edmond, representing the Oklahoma Smokers'
Rights Group, blasted the EPA report as "controversial at best,
if not flawed.
"If you change the rules, you can make them say anything you
want them to say," he said. For one thing, the study was actually
a combination of several studies, and the collective guidelines
differed from study to study, he said.
"It's not being based on scientific evidence. It's being based
on political science to psychologically engineer" behavior, he
said. King claimed that in one lung association study, 70 percent
of respondents said smoking in restaurants should "absolutely
not" be banned.
Political rhetoric for the meeting was supplied by former
state Rep. Benny Vanatta, who now lobbies for the Oklahoma
Restaurant Association. The group has 2,000 members, "is the
largest employer in the state, the largest employer of
minorities, largest employer of women and the largest employer of
young people at the entry level," he said.
Twenty-six percent of the population are smokers, and
therefore 26 percent of restaurant customers are smokers, Vanatta
"Our members are upset, and more than a little incensed, that
you would consider an interim study on banning smoking in
restaurants," he said. The restaurant industry has been hit by
taxes and other business issues at the federal level. Up to now,
the state legislature has been friendly to the industry, Vanatta
Restaurants in Oklahoma which seat under 50 patrons don't have
smoking regulations now, he said. Restaurants that seat more than
50 are required to have posted smoking and non-smoking areas. …