- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 22, 2006

LUVERNE, Ala. (AP) — If New York City can ban smoking in bars and restaurants, why not the town of Luverne?

“We don’t see why a small rural town can’t do the same thing,” said Al Snellgrove, a former Luverne City Council member who helped enact the ban last year.

The town’s residents adapted, said Mark Grant, a smoker who owns Luverne’s Our House restaurant. He has had to tell only a couple of people, both visitors passing through, to put out their cigarettes.

Some locals still grumble. “It’s a small community,” Mr. Grant said. “They’ve got to have something to complain about.”

Love them or hate them, smoking bans are popping up all over.

Last year, five states and 82 towns, cities and counties approved smoking bans, said the American Nonsmokers’ Rights Foundation, a California-based nonprofit considered to have the best data on the issue. It was a record year, surpassing 2004, when four states and 74 cities and counties began enforcing smoking bans.

Seventeen states now have no-smoking laws in effect, as do 461 towns, cities and counties elsewhere. The latest state to join the trend was New Jersey, where a law took effect April 15.

It is now illegal to smoke in about 43 percent of U.S. bars, restaurants and workplaces and, at many other job sites, employers have voluntarily barred smoking in enclosed spaces. Public health advocates are pleased not just by the number of bans but also the geographic diversity. Legislating towns include Sitka, Alaska; Laramie, Wyo; Victoria, Texas; Sulphur, La.; Pine Bluff, Ark.; Gainesville, Ga.; and Timnath, Colo. (population 223).

Thousands of smoking ordinances across the country call for nonsmoking areas or other restrictions, but tobacco control advocates and public health officials prefer total bans.

“Separate sections of the same room are much less effective in protecting nonsmokers from exposure,” said Terry Pechacek, senior scientist for tobacco-related issues at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Full-scale smoking bans began popping up in 1990, mainly in California. Cities and counties in a few other states, including many in Massachusetts, gradually joined the list.

Then, a turning point: In 2002, Delaware banned smoking in all workplaces, bars, restaurants and even the state’s three racinos — racetracks that have slot machines.

“What happened in Delaware was really critical,” a tough statewide ban in the middle of the East Coast, said Daniel Smith, the American Cancer Society’s national vice president for government relations.

In 2003, local smoking bans ballooned by 62. Two of the new bans proved influential, tobacco control advocates said. One was New York City; the second was in Lexington, Ky.

“Lexington was kind of a ‘shot heard round the world,’” a complete ban of smoking in bars and restaurants in a city in the heart of tobacco country, said Bronson Frick, associate director of Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights.

And New York? New York is perhaps the country’s most blunt-spoken, culturally diverse, politically challenging city, Mr. Smith said. “If something can be done in New York, it can be done anywhere,” he said.

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