Smoking ban puffs ahead

Jan 19, 2012

About 25-hundred Floridians die from secondhand smoke each year, and a bill to further cut down on that is moving forward in the Florida Legislature. As Sascha Cordner reports, one Florida lawmaker is trying give local governments more room to further ban outdoor smoking on their properties, but some lawmakers worry about the unintended consequences of the proposal.

Republican Senator Alan Hays of Umatilla says if cities and counties want to ban smoking in AND around their buildings, they ought to have that right:

“Currently regulation of smoking is preempted to the state Legislature and this bill creates an exemption to the preemption by allowing cities and counties to restrict smoking on their properties to include areas outside their buildings and outdoors. It allows cities and counties to make decisions that fit their community needs. It only applies to property owned by counties and other municipalities and does not impact businesses or other entities owned by the private sector.”

His bill is an expansion of the Florida Clean Indoor Air Act, which bans smoking in enclosed workplaces to cut down on the level of secondhand smoke. There are some exceptions, like private residences and designated smoking rooms in hotels and motels.

Speaking in front of Senate Regulation Committee members, Senator Hays proudly stated how much support he had with Senate Bill 746:

“This bill is supported by the Florida League of Cities, the Florida Association of Counties, the American Cancer Society, the Heart Association, and the Tobacco Prevention Network, and so far, no one has contacted me to voice their opposition. It’s good to bring a bill like this here, Mr. Chairman.”

He also had the support of Senate President designate Don Gaetz, who had some fun questioning Senator Hays about how the bill applies to specific outdoor areas:

“So, you got a piece of property that might be 50 miles out in the woods in North Okaloosa County, that’s not near any public building, but it’s owned by the county. They might be some road equipment stored out there. Let me just put this in the form of a question, it’s not your intention Senator Hays to stop somebody who’s out there 50 miles out there in the woods picking up a tractor for the county not to have a good cigar? Right?

Hays: Senator Gaetz, you’re absolutely correct, (laughs) and I’m sure many members of this Senate would like to join them for that fine cigar. I leave it up to the local officials.” 

But, all fun and jokes aside, some lawmakers had trouble with how the smoking ban would apply to sidewalks:

"What happens on a sidewalk? Is that a city property?”

“I can quote two  personal experiences in two different county courthouses, where I have to fight my way through a cloud of smoke to get in or out of the building, because people standing outside there smoking in close proximity to the exits. SO, this bill would allow the counties or the cities to say you cannot smoke within 100 feet or whatever distance they choose  to do that, but the sidewalks, I’m willing to work if these things need to be clarified.”

Senator Rene Garcia is the Chairman of the Regulation Committee. He  says though he would support the bill, he still had reservations about how it would apply to the outdoor seating at restaurants.

“In my community, sometimes certain restaurants will have outdoor seating, and you told me you would take care of outdoor seating on the sidewalks. And they use that as maybe the smoking areas, and I know we want to go up to a smoking free environment constantly, and I strive for that. But, I want to make sure that those restaurants won’t be penalized because they do have that outdoor seating on sidewalks, which are municipal properties, so I will vote for it today, but if we need to bring some clarification to that, and make sure we don’t penalize those outdoor seating restaurants on city sidewalks.”

There was one suggestion from Senator Miguel Diaz De la Portilla to specify the distance of where the ban should apply to clear up the issue some lawmakers had with the sidewalks.

“The way that it’s defined now in the bill, it says on, outdoor smoking on municipal property and counties may restrict outdoor on county property, and I would suggest to my friend and colleague, Senator Hays that perhaps, you have government buildings within a 50-foot radius, somewhere to what you use as far as the distance to polling places, or what have you, 50-feet from the entrance of government buildings, whether they be municipal or  county, might just eliminate that concern that both Senator Garc and I have raised.”

Senator Hays’ proposal did pass unanimously in the Senate Health Regulation Committee, and moves on to its last stop before it heads to the Senate floor, the Senate Community Affairs Committee. But, before that happens, Hays says he is willing to work with the lawmakers to address their concerns.