Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee has signed rules to enforce a statewide workplace smoking ban and said he believes most businesses in the state will view clean air as a smart business choice.
“Breathe easy, Arkansas,” Huckabee said after signing the rules at the state Capitol July 31. “I think we can all be proud of this very special moment.”
He said the event was the first news conference he could remember holding to sign rules regarding a state law. The smoking ban, passed during a special session earlier this year, went into effect July 21 but the civil penalties for the ban weren’t approved by the state Board of Health until last week.
The civil penalties and rules for its enforcement go into effect Aug. 10. Criminal penalties went into effect with the law July 21.
Violators could face fines of up to $500 for a criminal violation and $1,000 for a civil violation of the new law.
The state has received about 250 complaints of violations of the new law since it went into effect, Arkansas health officials said.
The law allows smoking areas in certain businesses, including small hotels and motels, retail tobacco stores and long-term care facilities. The law also includes an exemption for bars and restaurants that don’t admit people under 21.
At least 130 businesses have applied for an exemption, a spokeswoman for the Arkansas Division of Health said.
“I think people are going to find out that there is an overwhelming number of people who really prefer a nonsmoking environment,” Huckabee said. “There may be some businesses who think they can thrive that way, but I think more often than not, I think they not only limit their customer base but they also do encourage additional hazards.”
Huckabee described the hazards as including additional cleaning costs and the fact that smokers may occupy a restaurant table longer.
Health officials have said they don’t plan to immediately begin fining violators for not complying with the law and said they want to focus on educating Arkansans about the prohibition. Huckabee said he didn’t have a timeline of when the first fines may be levied under the new law.
“Most people really understand that this is pretty much making clean air the law of the state with very few exceptions,” Huckabee said. “While there may be some who will look for the loopholes, what we hope people will do is look for ways to be compliant.”
Arkansas’ chief health officer and surgeon general Joe Thompson said state health officials hope the law encourages people around the state to find ways to quit smoking.
“It is the state’s number-one health risk, and I think this is an important protection act for those who don’t smoke,” Thompson said.
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