Anti-Smoking on Local Level
Smoking bars and casinos in Oklahoma could become a thing of the past under new bills under consideration at the State Capitol.
The measure allows cities and counties to make tougher laws than currently allowed by the state which just bans smoking in restaurants.
In a small bar in northwest Oklahoma City, Scott Hynes lights up a cigarette where at least for now it’s legal to do so.
A few years ago Oklahoma cracked down on smoking in restaurants, but left drinking establishments alone.
Since 2006, all restaurants either had to ban cigarettes or spend money on a separate room which had its own ventilation system to filter out the smoke.
But, the law passed in 2003 didn’t affect casinos, private clubs or bars.
Good news for Scott and his friends who smoke.
“There’s nothing that goes well with a cold beer like a good cigarette. And, it definitely does limit where I’m able to go. You know, we find the places that we like in the small percentage of establishments that allow smoking inside.”
But, even those places could go away if House Bill 2267 passes.
It allows cities and counties to make laws stricter than the state when it comes to tobacco use.
Representative Doug Cox, an emergency room doctor out of Grove who is pushing the bill, says decisions on smoking shouldn’t be left up to lawmakers in Oklahoma City.
“This restores control to local communities and locally elected officials to determine where smoking can be allowed and where it isn’t in work places. Just like we have local control of our schools, I want to see local control of clean air ordinances.”
See, years ago tobacco companies got Oklahoma lawmakers to pass a preemption rule saying no local laws could be stricter than the state’s.
The preemption was pitched strongly by tobacco lobbyists who wanted to stop anti-smoking laws just at the state capitol rather than going to every local official across Oklahoma.
Local officials like Ponca City Mayor Homer Nicholson.
Nicholson says the bill to force restaurants to create smoking rooms didn’t go far enough.
Now he’s hoping HB 2267 will allow his city to take non-smoking to another level.
“We don’t have a specific plan, but staff and I have talked about the possibility of making city property non-smoking just like the governor did in stopping smoking at the state capitol.”
But, would any laws like this be able to reduce the number of smokers.
On a median on northwest 23rd south of Oklahoma City University, Law student Sunil Isaac smokes outside of the college during a break from classes.
He used to live in Illinois which banned smoking in all indoor work and public places including bars, restaurants and casinos.
Those laws forced him to give up cigarettes, but he picked them back up again when he moved to the Sooner State.
“A good majority of my friends have given up smoking as a result, and now it’s just like out you don’t have that opportunity to smoke and no one else smokes and you don’t want to go home smelling like smoke. So, I think it really does help as far as cutting down smoking.”
23% of Oklahomans smoke and according to the State Health Department two out of every three are seriously considering quitting.
Amy Stinnett is one of those smokers who wants to quit, but she works as a bartender at a place which allows smoking.
She says she and many of her patrons would like to clear the air.
“It makes it difficult for people who enjoy the bar, but don’t enjoy smoke, I know a handful of people who don’t smoke and even have breathing issues that still come in there because they have for years, but they can’t stay to long.”
For now there are still places for smokers to go enjoy cigarettes.
Back at the bar in northwest Oklahoma City, Scott Hynes is finishing up his cigarette and says stricter smoking laws won’t make people quit, it’ll further alienate smokers and force them out into the cold and wind.
“Instead of just automatically either forbidding smoking completely from everywhere or making everything smoking there’s got to be a happier medium than smokers on one side of the room, non-smokers on the other. It starts to reek of segregation, you know.”
A recent survey of 300 restaurant owners in Oklahoma found 68% support allowing Oklahoma cities to be smoke-free.
Also, 36% believe they will gain business compared to 9% who say they will lose it.