No 'butts' about it, states restricting 'lighting up' in public

Cigarette smokers are finding fewer and fewer public places where they are allowed to "light up" in the presence of nonsmokers. Of this, there are no if's or and's, and perhaps fewer "butts."

At least 32 states, as well as the District of Columbia, now have laws restricting, if not banning outright, smoking of cigarettes in enclosed areas. In 15 other states, at least one community has similar restrictions.

The trend to isolate smokers, which began in the mid-1970s, appears to be gaining momentum. Last year, for example, the legislatures or state regulatory agencies in at least nine states -- California, Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey, Oregon, and Rhode Island -- approved measures outlawing smoking in some places. More than a dozen cities and towns imposed smoking controls. Proposals ranged from "clean indoor air" acts, covering most enclosed public places, to others banning smoking only in specific locations, such as trains, buses, or food stores.

Thus far in 1980 no smoking-restriction proposals have gained state approval. But major "clean indoor air" legislation has cleared the lower chamber in two large state legislatures, Illinois and New York. At the same time, an initiative petition drive is moving ahead in California to place a referendum for a similar measure on that state's ballot next November.

Legislator interest in, if not support for, various nonsmoker-rights proposals has increased in recent weeks, according to spokesmen for Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), the American Lung Association, and the US Department of Health and Human Welfare (HHW).

Much of the current wave of enthusiasm for new or tougher regulations governing cigarette smoking is believed to stem from a March 27 article in the New England Journal of Medicine. The article contained findings by a team of California physicians that "secondhand" tobacco smoke is unhealthful for nearby nonsmokers.

This article has helped nonsmoking advocates shift the debate over cigarette smoke from that of an annoyance to a health hazard.

Although often unable to prevent antismoking laws, ordinances, or regulations , the tobacco industry frequently has succeeded in removing their teeth -- penalties.

In Massachusetts, for example, smoking in elevators, at public meetings, and on public transit has been outlawed for five years, yet such restrictions are widely ignored; no fines are imposed.

Efforts to toughen the 1975 Bay State statute by extending the "no smoking" rule to health facilities and by requiring large restaurants to segregate seating areas have been snuffed out in each of the past two legislative sessions.

Still pending in Massachusettes are several proposals that would prohibit free distribution of cigarettes for promotional purposes and ban advertising of cigarettes on billboards, taxis, or any mass transit vehicle or station.

While the prospects for passage are uncertain, antismoking activists like Rita Addison, president of the local chapter of Groups Against Smoking in Public (GASP), say they are "guardedly optimistic" about a proposal to impose a fine for cigarette giveaways to minors.

GASP and other groups also are pushing a proposed Boston ordinance to forbid smoking in public meetings, sponsored by City Councillor Raymond L. Flynn. Thus far, designation of April 7 as "clean air day" is the only antismoking action that has been taken in the Hub.

The American Lung Association, Washington-based ASH, and others on the antismoking front are buoyed by the recent medical journal article. They note that less than one-third of the nation's adult population now smokes cigarettes.

But antismoking crusaders are concerned that total cigarette consumption has held steady in recent years, even though the percentage of people who smoke has decreased.

Per capita cigarette smoking in 1979 was the lowest since 1957, according to Donald Shopland of HHW's Office on Smoking and Health. Young women 17 to 24 years of age were the only adult group in which cigarette smoking has increased in recent years.

In the nation's largest state, California, antismoking activists are confident of raising the nearly 350,000 voter signatures required to put their "clean air" proposal on the ballot. But they recall with some apprehension how a similar referendum in 1978 was defeated by well-financed opponents.

The current California proposal calls for separate smoking and no smoking sections wherever possible in schools, health facilities, public transportation, and in employment, both public and private. Fines of $15 per violation are provided.

Since cigarette companies were forbidden to advertise on radio and television in 1972, the industry has increased substantially its spending on newspaper, magazine, billboard, and other means of advertising, including large cigarette giveaway programs.

Cigarette makers spent $889 million last year in advertising and promotional activities, nearly triple what they spent for these purposes in 1963, just before the US surgeon general issued a report finding smoking to be a health risk.

Mississippi, Vermont, and Western Virginia now are the only states where there are no state or local restrictions on smoking in public places, according to Greg Scott of the Tobacco Institute Inc.

He notes that besides Massachusetts at least six other state legislatures -- California, South Dakota, Tennessee, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wisconsin -- have rejected antismoking proposals.

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