From beaches to bars, fight flares over smoking in public

Two new studies looking at effects of secondhand smoke are likely to fuel the movement for more bans.

The fight over secondhand smoke is heating up anew.

One study, which is likely to be published in the next few days, is expected to show a decrease in health problems when workplaces in one Montana town went smoke free.

And a major new study, released Tuesday, finds that more than half of US food-service workers, the nation's fourth largest occupation, have no protection from cigarette smoke. The report, issued by the American Legacy Foundation, which promotes antismoking policies, found that in general blue-collar and service workers are lagging compared with white-collar employees. Rates of cancer and respiratory diseases are higher among blue-collar and service workers, and their medical expenses are considerably higher.

"We're hoping this study will further accelerate a trend that is already accelerating, that is that more people are covered by smoke-free laws for their employment," says Cheryl Healton, president of the Legacy Foundation, which is based in Washington.

So far, five states - California, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, and New York - mandate that all places of employment be smoke free. A Massachusetts law is waiting for the governor's signature, and new legislation is moving through the Georgia statehouse. Florida, Idaho, and Utah include most restaurants and some bars in antismoking legislation. And scores of individual communities from Whitehorse, Alaska, to Lexington, Ky., are now smoke free. Several towns in California have made headlines for banning smoking on beaches.

The debate is likely to heat up even more in the next few days after the publication of a study of smoking in Helena, Mont. The study is expected to show that when the city's workplaces went smoke free, the heart-attack rate dropped in half. After a judge reversed the smoke-free move, the rate went back up.

"It was not a scientific study but a natural study," says Ms. Healton.

The issue of banning smoking in restaurants and bars has been contentious for years. Restaurant associations often warn that patronage will drop if they can't provide smoking sections. The industry has tried to convince lawmakers that ventilation can resolve the problem. "A lot of studies have shown that secondhand smoke is 100 times worse in a household than a restaurant," says Brad Dayspring, a spokesman for the National Restaurant Association in Washington.

The group had no comment on the study, which they had yet seen.

Stopping smoking in restaurants is not a priority for national unions. Tom Snyder, a spokesman for the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International, says the union has "no stand" on the issue of a smoke-free workplace.

According to the study, other jobs where workers are exposed to smoke include machine operators, materiel moving in warehouses, and longshore equipment operators. "Under 50 percent of the workers in these occupations have a smoke-free policy," says Donald Shopland, a coauthor of the study, which is in the April issue of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

Yet Hoboken is an example of how ambivalent wait staff and owners are about the issue. At the Mile Square Bar & Grill, Claudine Smith, a server, admits sometimes her eyes get dry and watery. But, overall, says Ms. Smith, a nonsmoker, she doesn't mind. "I'm so used to it."

At another restaurant, Buskers, general manager Robin Riker admits he sympathizes with those on the wait staff who don't smoke. But, he adds, "We didn't go out and grab them. They came and applied for the job."

Indeed, Danielle Schwartz, an aspiring actress who also works as a server at Arthur's Tavern, says her doctor recommended that she quit the restaurant after she was diagnosed with pneumonia. "I care about my health," she says. Still, she plans to wait another week to see if she gets better, since she needs the work.

Adam Parker contributed to this report.

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