Antismoking issue smolders in 24 states
Boston — Smoke-filled rooms may be slowly disappearing from the state and municipal government scence, but not without some huffing and puffing. Antismoking activities, with increased vigor, are battling tobacco interests on behalf of a broad range of clean indoor-air measures.
Proposals to ban or restrict cigarette smoking in certain enclosed areas, including public gathering places, are being debated in legislatures in at least 24 states and are under consideration in more than a dozen cities and towns around the nation.
While none of the legislation is assured of passage, several of the more than 75 separate measures have made headway.
In New Jersey, proposal to outlaw smoking in elevators and limit the use of cigarettes to designated areas in educational institutions and healthcare facilities have cleared the General Assembly. And the push is on in the state Senate, where sponsors say they are coutiously optimistic.
Considerably more clouded are the prospects for two other key non- smoker-rights proposals sponsored by the New Jersey chapter of Group Against Smoking in Public (GASP), which is seeking cigarette light-up bans in all indoor public gathering areas and the segregation of smokers in restaurants and workplaces.
Meanwhile, what could be a signifcant step toward curbing smoking in New Jersey government offices and conference rooms has been taken by Gov. Brendan T. Byrne Through a directive to all agencies. His Jan. 29 guidelines, however, have not yet been fully implemented. Under the measure, smoking in government offices is allowed only if all those in the work area vote accordingly.
New Jersey is among 33 states with some form of cigarette smoking restrictions. One or more municipalities in all but three of the others -- Mississippi, Vermont, and West Virginia -- alos have such regulations.
Only 21 states and less than a handful of cities and towns, however, have what might be considered clean indoor-air laws, according to officials of the US Department of Health and Human Services, whose Atlanta- based Center for Disease Control keeps track of such matters.
And less than half of these smoking restrictions extend into either the private workplace or restaurants, the directions in most of the current push.
In Massachusetts, for example, GASP, which last year came within one vote at getting such legislation through the state Senate, is again proposing a bill that would require separate nonsmoker sections in restaurants with a dining capacity of more than 50.
In neighboring New York, where a similar 1980 proposal cleared the General Assembly only to die in a Senate committee, a new bill also is beginning to move. This time, however, only restaurants seating more than 100 would be required to provide separate smoker and nonsmoker areas.
Nine states, including Minnesota which has what is generally considered the strictest indoor clean-air law in the nation, have mandated no-smoking sections in some, if not all, eating establishments. The Montana and Nebraska statutes, both of which were enacted within the past two years, also cover certain workplaces.
Support for smoking restrictions has been boosted by recently published reports that indicate nonsmokers can be adversely affected by secondhand smoke from the cigarettes of co-workers and others within enclosed areas.
Despite this and the fact that nearly 7 out of every 10 adult Americans now are nonsmokers, GASP, the American Lung Assocition, and others bent on protecting the public from cigarettes continue to be thwarted.
Major efforts for clean indoor-air measures in CAlifornia and Dade County (Miami), Fla., were rejected by the voters last November.
While it may never be known what effect opposition advertising by tobacco interests had in the campaign, in both instances proponents were heavily outspent.
Sponsors of both proposals make it clear they have no intention of quitting, yet they all but rule out another ballot try in the near future.
Peter Hanauer, the new chairman of CaliFornians for Smoking and Nonsmoking Sections, indicates that instead of another statewide drive, attention may be focused in getting clean indoor-air measures on the books in the parts of states where there was majority voter support last November.
One of the nation's newest smoking control measures is in Boston where the City Council in late December imposed a ban on smoking at public meetings and in other public areas of city-owned buildings. Necessary enforcement procedures, however, have yet to be drafted by the municipal agency involved.
A measure to outlaw giving away cigarettes for promotional purposes, similar to 1979 ordinances in Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minn., missed Boston City Council approval by one vote.
Massachusetts GASP, sponsor of the measure, now is pressing for a statewide ban and a law to prevent cigarette advertising on bill- boards across the commonwealth.
Rhode Island legislators likewise are considering such advertising restrictions. Thus far, only Utah forbids use of billboards to encourage cigarette sales. And that statute has been on the books for close to a half century.
Besides those mentioned, other states with proposed smoking curbs include Alaska, Arizona, Connecticut, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, missouri, Montana, New Mexico, Oregon, Texas, Vermon t, WAshington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.