Leader Blues

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

TOP STORY >> Clean Air Act to take effect

By SARA GREENE
Leader staff writer

On Monday, July 21, workplaces and most public areas throughout the state are to be smoke-free as part of the state Clean Indoor Air Act of 2006. It prohibits smoking at worksites and in public places to protect employees and the public from secondhand smoke.

The state is relying on the public to report violations to the Department of Health and Human Services.

“When the act was passed this spring, I put out guidance to department directors. There’s been a city ordinance dating back to 1987 regarding not smoking in city facilities,” said Charlie Brown, Jacksonville’s director of human resources.

Smoking is still allowed outdoors but not in vehicles such as buses, taxis or government vehicles such as police cars. Smoking is permitted in vehicles owned by private businesses and individuals except when children are present.

The Arkansas Protection from Secondhand Smoke for Children Act of 2006 prohibits smoking in all motor vehicles in which a child who is less than 6 years old and weighs less than 60 pounds is restrained in a child-passenger safety seat.

Employers cannot allow smoking in a place of business open to the public or an enclosed space, meaning all space between a floor and a ceiling that is enclosed on all sides by solid walls or windows, exclusive of doorways, that extend from the floor to the ceiling. Employers have an obligation to protect their employees and customers by taking steps, such as posting signs and intervening when employees or customers light up.

“Smoke-free workplaces can only help the overall health of our community,” said George Biggs, director of Jacksonville Parks and Recreation. Biggs is a member of the Governor’s Council on Fitness.

When smoking occurs in a worksite, employees and members of the public may report violations to the DHHS, Division of Health at www.arcleanair.com, by telephone at (800) 235-0002 or by mailing a complaint form available at local health units.
“Gov. Mike Huckabee is very positive about the results of this act,” said Mayor Tommy Swaim, a former smoker himself.

Complaints are investigated in accordance with Division of Health protocol. If found to be in violation, the violator may be assessed a civil penalty of up to $1,000 per violation. Criminal prosecution of violations of the Act may also be pursued. In criminal cases, any employer, employee or member of the public found guilty can be fined a minimum of $100 and a maximum of $500 per violation.

Last October hospitals across the state, including Rebsamen Medical Center, banned smoking on the grounds. The hospital posted signs and offered free smoking cessation classes at the hospital to assist employees who needed help kicking the habit. The no-smoking rule applies to all patients and visitors as well.

The exceptions to the Clean Indoor Air Act are:

• A private residence except when used as a licensed child care, adult daycare or health care facility.
• A retail tobacco store if secondhand smoke from the store does not infiltrate into areas where smoking is prohibited under the law.
• The designated smoking areas on the gaming floor of a franchise of the Arkansas Racing Commission.
• Outdoor areas of any place of employment such as the patio of a restaurant. Smoking is not allowed outside at health care facilities, schools and daycare campuses.
The exceptions that must have certification from the Arkansas Department of Health and Human Services include:
• The workplace of any employer with fewer than three employees. This exemption does not apply to any public business, for example a beauty salon with two stylists.
• Hotel and motel rooms that are rented to guests and are designated as smoking rooms. If a hotel or motel has more than 25 rooms, not more than 20 percent of the rooms may be exempt from this law.
• A restaurant or bar licensed by the State of Arkansas that prohibits all persons under 21 at any time including customers and employees. Exempt restaurants and bars are required to post signs to designate that smoking is allowed. The signs shall be at least 11 inches wide