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Smoke-free in Tennessee: Law seeks to protect health of non-smokers, but is it just another instance of government control?

Non smokers throughout the state can breathe easier after a bill aimed at cleaning up the air in enclosed public spaces passed through the Tennessee Legislature this June.

State Sen. Jim Tracy, who represents Murfreesboro in the senate and sponsored the Non-Smoker Protection Act, said the measure aims to take the second hand smoke out of public places and pointed out many neighboring states have enacted similar laws.

“It’s about the health and safety of our citizens,” Tracy said.

The bill received tremendous support in the legislature?the state house passed it 84 – 10 and the senate approved it by a count of 28 – 2.

Beginning Oct. 1, those found lighting up inside most public places can be charged with a misdemeanor and fined $50. Businesses out of compliance can be fined up to $500. The Tennessee Department of Health and the Department of Labor and Workforce Development will enforce the regulation and enforcement shouldn’t cost the state any extra money, Tracy said.

A few types of establishments are exempt from the ban such as 21-and-up clubs, businesses with three or fewer employees, tobacco and cigar shops (don’t worry Liquid Smoke patrons, there are exceptions) and private clubs. Restaurants, however, will no longer have smoking and non-smoking sections, they’re now smoke-free in Tennessee.

“The restaurants are pretty OK with it. I’ve had very few negative comments,” Tracy said.

The senator says he expects the smoking ban to actually improve business in many dining establishments.

“Many restaurants have lines for the non-smoking section,” Tracy said. “So now they can move more people through quicker.”

And most seem to look at the ban as a positive thing.

“I am very grateful this will take place, too bad not sooner,” said Jackie Cantrell of Murfreesboro. “I do not go into certain places because of smoke.”

Cantrell’s law of smoke probability states “no matter where the non-smoker is sitting, the smoke will always go towards that person.”

Even many smokers say they shouldn’t smoke around others.

“I don’t mind going outside to smoke,” said Jacob P. Spaulding, a senior at MTSU.

Although he added he didn’t think the measure would pass so easily.

“This is tobacco country, and it surprises me that the issue even got through on a statewide level,” he said.

Spaulding also expressed concern with government decreeing that smokers can not light up in public.

“I think it is overstepping legislative boundaries,” he said. “The issue should be left to owners and operators to decide if they allow smoking. This is just one more way to control.”

Another local echoed the student’s sentiments that the decision to allow smoking should be left up to individual establishments, not state government.

“I think it is a right our government has taken away. I don’t like smoking but that’s what the non-smoking section is for,” said Melissa Wilkie. “First smoking then drinking then religion rights! What next?”

Tracy said he understood concerns about the loss of personal freedom, but said since second hand smoke is so dangerous?even more dangerous than what a smoker inhales through a filter?non-smokers should be protected from it.

“For a period of 30 minutes or so they (smokers) can do without,” Tracy told The Pulse. “Or they can go somewhere with a patio. I guess in the winter that would be a little hard, though.”

Cantrell agrees that the right to clean air outweighs the right to smoke in public.

“I am all about free choice, however when it comes to smoking in public, I agree with the ban,” she said.

And Spaulding said he did applaud the state’s attempt to improve health.

While the act will not be enforced until Oct. 1, some local restaurants have already gone totally non-smoking.

“The majority have been OK with it, but we’ve had a few customers who have gotten really upset,” local Ryan’s Steakhouse General Manager Gail Madderom said.

Some customers even left after discovering they couldn’t smoke anymore.

“Some get really nasty,” Madderom said. “A lot of people weren’t even aware.”

While Ryan’s is losing a few customers since not all restaurants have converted to totally non-smoking, the playing field will be level in October.

Though if an establishment chooses to allow only those over 21 in, as Bluesboro Rhythm and Blues Co. plans on doing, they can still allow smoking.

Could a server between the ages of 18 – 20 still be employed there, though?

“That was one of the questions. The bill doesn’t clarify,” Tracy said. He said as far as he understood, someone between18 – 20 could still work in an establishment that allows smoking, but the clientele must be over 21.

Tracy also said an establishment can’t switch back and forth, for example allowing all ages during the week and banning smoking and then only admitting 21-and-up on weekends and allowing smoking. The club must make a decision and stick to it.

One of the notable exceptions to the ban is nursing homes. This is because nursing homes are considered private residences and federal law does prohibit states from banning smoking inside someone’s home.

FAST FACTS:

? Pope Urban VII issued the first known public smoking ban in 1590 when he threatened to excommunicate those using tobacco or even bringing tobacco within the premises of churches worldwide. However, Pope Benedict XIII, a tobacco user, later repealed the ban.

? Adolf Hitler, a fiercely adamant non-smoker, spearheaded a national campaign to ban smoking in all public buildings in Germany. The Nazis also banned tobacco companies from advertising and attempted to price out cigarettes by imposing large taxes on tobacco.

? The United Kingdom instituted a country-wide smoking ban in public effective July 1, 2007. Many pubs have actually experienced a slight increase in business since the measure took effect.

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