New state law stamps smoking in workplace

Employees will be protected from the dangers of secondhand smoke under a new health law that goes into effect on Jan. 1.

With only a few exceptions, smokers will be restricted from lighting up in an indoor work center under the Oregon Smokefree Workplace Law, House Bill 2828. The new law will not apply to taverns or restaurants that are posted off-limits to minors and in both bowling centers and bingo halls.

In early December, the Oregon Department of Human/Health Services notified about 82,000 businesses statewide to get ready for the new law. Maija Yasui, coordinator for the Hood River Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drug Prevention Coalition said only five businesses in Hood River County will have to come into compliance. She said the majority of local establishments have already chosen to have smoke-less environments for both their workers and patrons.

"We've been one of the most progressive counties in our state -- we like clean air," said Yasui.

She said the 191 members of the prevention coalition have been working pro-actively to educate business owners that employees working in a smoke-filled environment have a 35-50 percent higher chance of developing heart disease.

"Healthier employees don't miss as much work and businesses with a smoke-free workplace get their fire and health insurance premiums reduced -- it's just a win-win situation," said Yasui.

For its outreach efforts, the Hood River coalition was ranked top out of 300 peer groups across the state last spring. The group is currently awaiting word on a recent nomination for a national award. But Yasui said the greatest satisfaction of coalition members has been to see the 15 percent drop in youth smoking rates during the past three years.

Even though there has been a slight spike in the number of smokers among the sixth grade crowd, Yasui said the coalition is confident that increase will level out since it has scored $21,000 in state grant funds to teach refusal skills to fifth graders.

According to state statistics, smoking among adults in Oregon is also down 14 percent since 1996, from 23.4 percent to 20.2. percent. Overall, tobacco consumption in Oregon has fallen dramatically, a 22 percent decline since 1996 that health experts figure now saves 1,200 lives and $300 million each year.

Yasui believes the smoke-free workplace law will also provide an incentive for many people to quit smoking, which will greatly reduce the number of tobacco-related deaths. For example, Yasui said in Hood River County last year 31 people died of illnesses directly linked to smoking, between 20-24 percent of all reported deaths.

She said the effects of secondhand smoke is a direct contributor toward low infant birth weights, upper respiratory illnesses and asthma. It is also believed to play a major role in Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

Oregon businesses have been given three months to comply with the new non-smoking law. If complaints are reported to the local health department after the law goes into effect, the business can receive a $50 citation for the first offense and progressively higher penalties for each additional violation, up to a maximum of $1,000.

Yasui said members of the coalition are available to meet with any business owner who has questions about the new regulation and explain how it works. She invites those wanting consultations to call her office and schedule an appointment at 386-3335.

"I have complete faith in folks of this community that when you reach out to them they are going to go tobacco-free," said Yasui.

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