Arkansas businesses now smokeless

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

With a few exceptions, workplaces all over Arkansas became smoke free on Friday with the implementation of the Clean Indoor Air Act, passed by the state legislature in April. The act bans smoking in most enclosed public places and will be enforced under the authority of the Arkansas Department of Health and Human Services. Establishments that are exempt from the law and may continue to permit smoking indoors include bars or restaurants that do not allow anyone under 21 years of age to enter or work on the premises at any time, business with fewer than three employees that are not open to the public and retail tobacco stores. In addition, smoking areas may continue to be designated for patient use only in long-term care facilities such as nursing homes, and hotels and motels may have up to 20 percent of their rooms designated as smoking rooms.

Although the law provides for fines of up to $1,000 for individuals or businesses that are found to be in violation of the act, Arkansas Health and Human Services Communications Director Julie Munsell explained that the department wants to be sure the public is adequately educated about the new statewide policy before they start issuing fines. "We want to stress that this is an educational outreach," Munsell said. "We know there is going to be a transition period."

Barton's of Manila is one local business that is currently undergoing the transition to a nonsmoking environment, and, according to manager Don Orr, it has been somewhat difficult for his employees and patrons.

"I've got six guys up here who smoke," Orr stated on Friday. "But they knew it was coming."

Although Orr said a recent company policy prevented employees from smoking in the store in the presence of customers, they were still permitted to smoke in a designated smoking area in the building until the law went into effect on Friday. In preparation for the smoking ban, Barton's corporate office sent out materials to enable the management of the store to inform employees and customers about the policy change.

Orr echoed the sentiment of many critics of the law since its passage. "I understand the purpose of the whole thing, but you're taking away everybody's personal rights," he said.

Even though he is not a fan of the law, Orr said he did not believe the no smoking policy would adversely affect the store's business. "I know several customers who aren't happy about it, but it's the law."

Some area businesses, however, do not have to undergo any type of transition as a result of the act because they already had no smoking policies in place long before the new law's passage. One such business is Basler Electric in Caraway, according to Human Resources Director Carolyn Barker.

Barker estimated the factory has maintained a no indoor smoking policy for approximately 15 years, with employees confining their smoking to a designated outdoor area. "Nothing has changed for us," Barker said.

Since the passage of the act in April, Munsell said the DHHS has been actively working to ensure that all Arkansans are aware of the changes in the law. A paid media campaign was launched in print, broadcast and radio mediums, and business kits were sent out to chamber of commerce organizations throughout the state.

With the law now in effect, Munsell and the DHHS begin the task of fielding complaints of noncompliance. Any person who witnesses the law being violated may lodge a complaint in a number of ways, according to Munsell. Complaints may be filed via email form on the Breathe Easy Arkansas website at The website also contains a link to a downloadable complaint form that can be submitted by mail. Also, questions or complaints may be directed to the DHHS hotline from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday at 1-800-235-0002.

Once a complaint is filed, the DHHS will begin the process of investigating the business and/or individual that is alleged to have violated the act. However, Munsell noted that at least for now, fines will not automatically result from a complaint.

"If a business is attempting to comply, we will work with them," she said. "We plan to reserve the punitive actions for people who don't want to comply."

Munsell encouraged anyone with questions about the Clean Indoor Air Act to visit the website for a wealth of information about the law. In addition to complaint forms, the entire text of the law can be viewed. The business kit that was sent to many businesses in the state is available online, containing printable signs that can be used by businesses to inform patrons and/or employees of the law. In addition, Munsell said that an extensive frequently asked questions page attempts to address all possible inquiries about specific issues relating to the new law.

In particular, Munsell mentioned that the website addresses the false belief some businesses owners have that installing a separate ventilation system will allow them to permit smoking in their building and be in compliance with the law. "We want to help businesses avoid the pitfalls of making expensive and unnecessary modifications with the plan review process explained on the website," Munsell said. "There is not much you can do except erect an outdoor site for smoking."

The website also addresses the distinction between the Arkansas Clean Indoor Air Act and the Arkansas Protection from Secondhand Smoke for Children Act, which prohibits smoking in private motor vehicles in which a child is restrained in a child passenger safety seat.

This act also went into effect on Friday and provides a $25 fine for anyone who is smoking in a vehicle in which a child that requires restraint in a safety seat is also a passenger. The fine may be waived one time for a person charged with violating the act if they provide proof that they have started a smoking cessation program.

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