Clean Air Act Goes Into Effect on July 21 (Editorial)

Arkansas' new law that bans smoking in public places, the Arkansas Clean Indoor Air Act of 2006, goes into effect July 21, and Arkansans are being asked to go out and eat at their favorite restaurants.

The event is called Dine Out in Arkansas. The idea came from Pine Bluff, which held a similar event last year after the city approved a more restrictive citywide smoking ban.

The Coalition for a Tobacco Free Arkansas hopes the event will bring attention to the new law and also help allay any fears from restaurant owners that their businesses will be hurt by the law. If Arkansans follow the pattern of other states that have banned smoking, it will actually mean an increase in business.

Although we hate to have to eat in a smoke-filled room, philosophically we didn't agree with the act despite the sensible arguments about it being a public health matter, an economic development matter and a matter of common sense. After all, smoking is a legal activity. About a quarter of Arkansans smoke, unhealthy activity that it is, killing more people than the other top five killers combined. Secondhand smoke is No. 3. More than 5,200 people die each year in Arkansas from tobacco use and about 575 more die from someone else's smoke.

The new law about to go into effect bans smoking in all places of employment and indoor public areas, including all restaurants.

There are exceptions: bars where no one under the age of 21 is allowed to enter and home-based businesses the public cannot enter that employ fewer than three people. Smoking will be allowed in designated smoking rooms in hotels and motels that have more than 25 rooms, as long as no more than 20 percent of the rooms are smoking rooms.

The ban also includes exemptions for nursing homes, Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Southland Greyhound Park in West Memphis and tobacco shops.

Although we didn't align ourselves with the law, we say go out and have a good smoke-free dinner on July 21.