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Archive for Monday, August 9, 2004

Nebraska cities could lead way to statewide smoking ban

Lincoln, Omaha to have public hearings on proposal

August 9, 2004

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— Having Nebraska's largest cities discuss bans on smoking in restaurants, bars and other workplaces could pave the way to a statewide ban, some activists say.

"All states ultimately will go smoke-free," said Dave Holmquist, director of government relations for the American Cancer Society in Nebraska.

Massachusetts, New York, Connecticut, Maine, Delaware and California have some form of wide-ranging smoking ban. Outside of the country, Ireland and India have nationwide bans on smoking.

Smoking in Nebraska already is banned or restricted to designated areas in grocery and retail stores, many restaurants and bars, state office buildings and other workplaces frequented by the public.

Even work sites not often visited by the public, such as factories and warehouses, are regulated for smoking by state health and labor officials.

Still, activists concerned about health problems caused by secondhand smoke, particularly for people with heart disease, asthma and other ailments, are encouraging even more restrictive rules. This year, the cities of Lincoln, Omaha, Bellevue and Grand Island have been at various stages of discussion of smoking bans.

The Lincoln City Council passed a strict ban, but bar owners petitioned and the council will put its ordinance up for a public vote, perhaps in November. Omaha's City Council will have a public hearing on a proposed ban Aug. 17, and it could vote on an ordinance Aug. 24.

Grand Island's City Council is studying the issue, while officials in Bellevue are urging a statewide vote on any smoking ban.

State Sen. Mike Foley, of Lincoln, who sponsored a successful ban on smoking in private homes licensed as daycare centers, said at some point smoking would be banned in all public places.

"That's the logical conclusion of where these efforts are pointing us," Foley said. "The dangers of secondhand smoke are well-known, and nonsmokers are getting more militant about defending their health."

Gov. Mike Johanns, however, opposes a statewide ban, his spokeswoman Terri Teuber said. "He believes it would be an enormous intrusion by government," she said.

Lawrence and Salina are the two Kansas cities in which smoking is banned in public places.

The Nebraska Restaurant Assn. argues that the free market should determine which eating establishments allow smoking and which do not, executive director Jim Partington said.

"This in fact is happening," Partington said. "As the number of smokers continues to decline, the number of smoke-free restaurants will increase."

Omaha City Councilman Marc Kraft is proposing smoking bans for that city. He points out that about 22 percent of Nebraskans smoke, while 78 percent do not.

Restaurants and other businesses worried about losing customers might consider the number of people who stay away from their shops just to avoid secondhand smoke, Kraft said.

People in other parts of the state are watching the developments.

"We have a lot of 'mom and pop' type of locations, they're pretty reluctant to make these changes," said Stephen Huerta, project coordinator for the Scotts Bluff County Tobacco Collaborative in Gering. A year of seeing a ban in place somewhere in Nebraska could help them gauge the reaction, Huerta said.

Kay McMinn, a member of the Buffalo County Tobacco Free Coalition in Kearney, said her group, too, was aware of developments.

"We're waiting to see what happens with other cities: Omaha, Lincoln, Grand Island," McMinn said. "Learn from their strategies, test the environment to see if it's something that will go forward here."

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