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Take your butts outside

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Arkansans looking for relief from cigarette smoke won't have to step outside any longer. The Arkansas Clean Indoor Air Act went into effect July 21 to a mixed reaction from Arkansans across the state.

The act's intent is to make workplaces and public areas throughout the state smoke free, thereby protecting workers in nearly all public and private workplaces from secondhand smoke and ensuring that children, senior citizens and the general public can breathe smoke-free air in the public places they visit.

"The evidence is clear that smoke-free laws protect health without harming business," Gov. Mike Huckabee wrote in a letter. "Dozens of studies and hard economic data have shown that smoke-free laws do not harm sales or employment. In fact, these laws can have a positive impact." He said the studies have shown a increase in profits, increased productivity in employees and a decrease in maintenance costs.

Secondhand smoke is a serious health hazard for everyone, according to the Arkansas Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported secondhand smoke was responsible for 3,060 lung cancer deaths and 35,052 deaths from heart attacks between 1997 and 2001.

The act is to be enforced by the owners, managers and operators of areas open to the public and places of employment. Businesses are encouraged to post no-smoking signs and to inform employees and customers that smoking indoors is a violation of the act.

"They said go light on it right now until everyone gets used to it," Fulton County Sheriff Walter Dillinger said. "I hope we don't have to enforce it."

Some local businesses, including Flash Market and 62 Dairy Freeze, allowed smoking until July 21. "We haven't had any problems," said Jessica Richardson, an employee of 62 Dairy Freeze.

The act forbids smoking in what it calls "enclosed" areas. Enclosed areas are the spaces between a floor and ceiling which is enclosed on all sides by solid walls or windows.

"We'll tell them (smokers) that this is a non-smoking area," said Dillinger concerning those they catch in the act.

Employees and the public may report violations of the law to the DHHS. Enforcement includes education about the Act's requirements.

Complaints will be tracked and investigated in accordance with the DHHS Division of Health protocol and may result in a hearing before the Arkansas State Board of Health.

The violations of the law will be monitored by the Arkansas State Board of Health, which may assess civil penalties up to $1,000 per violation. The board will also reserve the right to revoke the license of any entity for which it has licensing authority. The process may include concurrent criminal penalties of up to $500 per violation.

If someone wants to file a complaint they can visit the Web site www.ARCleanAir.com or call toll free at 800-235-0002. Complaints can also be mailed using a complaint form which is available for download at the Web site or at local DHHS offices.

Division of Health personnel would look for evidence of smoking taking place at worksites which they have received complaints about. Things they will look for include the smell of cigarette smoke, the presence of ashtrays or other indications of smoking.

There are some exceptions to the rule. Hotels may offer 20 percent of their rooms as smoking rooms to guests. A business with less than three people, which is not open to the public, can allow smoking. Eating or drinking establishments that do not allow anyone under the age of 21 at all times can allow smoking.

People will still be able to smoke outside, provided the smoke from their cigarettes does not enter a building, the act states.

Dillinger said he has heard some grumbling about the law. He said some people feel like their rights are being taken away. Dillinger, a smoker himself, said a high percentage of people in Fulton County are smokers.



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