Stateline Story

Workplace Smoking Bans Gain Momentum

Smoking bans gathered legislative momentum this year as New York joined California, Delaware and Florida in prohibiting smoking in the workplace as well as restaurants and bars.

The victory for anti-smoking forces in New York came after lawmakers in Delaware snuffed out an effort to roll back the restrictive smoking ban that went into effect there in 2002.

The New York ban, which will be enforced starting July 24, strengthens a less-restrictive 1989 law by prohibiting smoking in virtually all work and public places, said Mike Arens, press aide to Democratic state Sen. Charles Fuschillo of Long Island, the bill's prime sponsor. Republican Gov. George Pataki signed the measure March 26.

Meantime, Florida lawmakers are working on legislation to implement last year's voter-approved constitutional amendment to ban smoking in the workplace and several Northeastern states Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maine, New Jersey and Vermont are also considering statewide bans.

"Clean indoor air' bills were introduced in 35 states in all this year, leading policy analysts to conclude that the issue is here to stay. Smoking bans are more prevalent at the local level, but state lawmakers are being spurred to action more than ever before, said Bronson Frick, associate director for Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights (ANR), a national lobbying organization based in Berkeley, Calif.

Proponents said city ordinances often help break ground for statewide regulation.

The New York state legislation, for example, comes "on the heels of New York City's (ban), and seems to have given momentum to bills in states that otherwise wouldn't have gone anywhere," Frick said.

In California, the first state to outlaw workplace smoking, the 1994 action came after many cities had adopted anti-smoking policies of their own.

A number of municipalities are currently considering bans, including Pueblo, Colo., San Antonio, Indianapolis, Dallas and Chicago. "State legislators and city councilmen and women are finally coming to terms with the scientific evidence, which makes clear that second-hand smoke is a serious health hazard for workers and the public," said Bill Corr, executive director of the D.C.-based Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

However, 18 states have preemption laws that prohibit localities from implementing smoke-free policies.

Opponents of workplace smoking bans are often the tobacco, gaming and restaurant industries, which fear they could have an adverse economic impact, said Andrew McKinley, a research analyst at the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). That's why Delaware state Rep. Pamela Thornburg (R-West Dover) tried to ease last year's landmark restrictions in her state to allow smoking in taprooms and some areas of casinos. Though her bill was defeated 14-7 in the Senate last month, it reignited legislative debate.

"This (ban) hurts businesses in Delaware, and basically, I represent a district that is very sensitive to personal rights. There was a lot of sentiment in this part of the state that the smoking ban had gone too far," Thornburg told Stateline.org. She vows to bring the issue up again.

In Florida, legislators are debating how to implement a constitutional amendment to ban workplace smoking approved by over 70 percent of voters in November 2002. House bill 1757 is considered more restrictive than the Senate measure, which would permit workplaces to keep a designated smoking room. Gov. Jeb Bush (R) is non-committal on the issue, McKinley said.

In other state activity:

  • A Maryland Senate committee shelved the "Clean Indoor Air Act of 2003," which would have banned smoking at indoor work sites, including restaurants, bars and pool halls. The Maryland legislation would also have permitted localities to set tougher restrictions if they saw fit.
  • In Alabama, the legislature is considering two bills that would establish the first statewide clean indoor air law. Senate bill 126 passed the Senate and is awaiting a final reading in the House. However, political gridlock in the Statehouse might prevent the bill from being heard again this session, the Senate clerk's office said.
  • In North Carolina, where tobacco farming was long a staple of the state economy, lawmakers passed a law to ban smoking on the floor of the state Senate and House.
  • And in Vermont, state Sen. Virginia Lyons (D-Chittenden) is trying to repeal a 1993 law banning smoking in businesses without cabaret licenses, which are granted to establishments that get more than half their revenue from alcohol or entertainment. But the bill hasn't moved from committee and probably won't be considered this year because of time constraints.