Saturday, May 05, 2007

Smoking Ban Finds Daylight in Senate

From today's pages of KGW, news that the Senate President's Office is moving the tavern smoking ban bill over the river and through the woods, onto the Senate floor:
The bill stalled after state fiscal analysts said the smoking ban could shrink revenue by $50 million in the coming two years, by reducing video lottery play and by cutting into sales of cigarettes and alcohol — and the taxes the state collects on them.

This past week, however, Senate President Peter Courtney came to the conclusion that protecting public health trumps concerns over a possible revenue hit.

So he's asked the Senate Revenue Committee in the coming week to advance to the full Senate a bill to clear the air in Oregon's bars and taverns by requiring smokers to step outside to indulge their habit.

Although some lawmakers have questioned the $50 million estimate of lost revenue, Senate leaders have decided to have the smoking ban take effect in January 2009, instead of next January, to soften the impact of any revenue drop on the coming two-year budget.

Delaying the start of the smoking ban until 2009 also would give Oregon's bars and taverns — and their customers — time to get used to the idea that smokers' last indoor public refuge is eventually going to disappear.

The Oregon Restaurant Association, representing 3,000 bars and restaurants, has strongly opposed past bills to ban smoking in bars and taverns, but isn't taking a position on this year's bill.

"We still think it's taking away the rights of adults to do what they want to do," said association spokesman Bill Perry.

However, he noted that other places, including neighboring Washington state, have moved to ban smoking in all indoor business establishments, and that anti-smoking advocates have threatened to take the issue to the 2008 ballot if the Legislature doesn't act.

"Most of our people thought it was going to get on the ballot and pass, so they were expecting the 2009 date anyway," Perry said.
There are a few laudatory statements from Courtney, Merkeley and the Tobacco-Free Coalition, so go follow the link for the full story--but I wanted to focus a bit more on what ORA had to say about it, there at the end.

Not taking a position? That is the second major cigarette related bill that opponents have pretty much given a pass to; fire safe cigarettes finally passed the Legislature when Phillip Morris dropped their opposition. And now the protectors of the vast video lottery kitty are saying "we knew it was coming" on a tavern ban?

Don't get me wrong at all--this is awesome news. I have always rejected the argument that the employee has a choice where to work, in favor of the better argument that an employer has a duty to protect the health of his staff while on the job, and must eliminate hazards not essential to their performance. Smoking, while prevalent and frankly pretty enjoyable while drinking at a bar, is not an essential part of having a bar business. As we've seen elsewhere, you can ban cigarettes and people will still come to drink, because that's what they're there for really anyhow.

Interestingly, I love the cigar bar exemption. Now THAT is a primary purpose, and you simply can't have a lounge that specializes in consumption of tobacco without tobacco smoke. It strikes me that while they're seemingly not as popular as on the East coast yet, hookah bars--places where people smoke flavored tobacco socially through a common source (a hookah, duh)--should also be exempted.

So cheers to the Senate, and let's hope it makes it through the Leg intact before sine die.