State Smoking Ban Slows Smoking Restrictions in Ark. Cities

April 14, 2006

Efforts to enact workplace-smoking bans in at least three Arkansas cities are being put on hold since the Legislature approved – and Gov. Mike Huckabee signed into law – a statewide workplace-smoking ban last week.

The ban goes into effect in July.

Five Arkansas cities already ban or restrict smoking in public places in some manner. Pine Bluff, Fayetteville, Fairfield Bay, Highfill and El Dorado had already enacted smoking restrictions.

Efforts had been under way in at least three other cities – Jonesboro, Springdale and Little Rock – to introduce similar bans but it’s likely those efforts won’t move forward anytime soon because of the state’s ban, an official with the American Cancer Society said.

“I think what you’re going to see is a sorting out period where people learn more about this and see its effects,” said Kevin Dedner, the society’s government relations director. “I think people are going to take some time and adjust to the law.”

The Arkansas ban, which includes exemptions for small hotels, nursing homes and the Oaklawn horse racing track and the Southland Greyhound Park in West Memphis, isn’t as strict as some of the other bans passed in other parts of the state. The ban also exempted tobacco shops and home-based businesses with fewer than three employees.

The statewide ban also exempts any bars that don’t allow anyone under the age of 21 on the premises, which may leave some bars and clubs out of the smoke-free restrictions.

The statewide restriction doesn’t go as far as one that had been considered in Little Rock, which had considered a ban that would eventually restrict all bars and restaurants.

Little Rock Mayor Jim Dailey said the city had slowed down its proposal after he initially heard of Huckabee’s interest in a statewide ban. Dailey said the city will abandon its smoking restriction proposal because of the new legislation.

“I have breathed a sigh of relief because I consider my objective in developing a city that is under a workplace smoking ban accomplished,” Dailey said. “As far as I’m concerned, it’s off the table.”

Bans in individual cities will still stand and cover circumstances not addressed by the state law. For example, Pine Bluff’s ban includes a 10-foot buffer around any doorway, a restriction not imposed by the new legislation.

Dedner said it’s possible that other cities around the state could pass measures that impose more restrictions than the state’s ban, but said his group doesn’t have a strategy right now to lobby for those proposals.

“Obviously it’s our hope to have better coverage around the state overall,” Dedner said. “But we don’t think that’s anything that’s going to happen immediately.”

Huckabee said cities are free to enact more restrictions, but said he doesn’t think there’s much more that could make the ban stronger.

Violators of the ban could be fined $100 to $500.

“It’s pretty doggone strict, quite frankly,” Huckabee said. “There’s not much more a city could do to be more strict, other than just ban smoking, period.”

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