Oregon smoking ban passes in the Senate


Lighting up a cigarette in Oregon bars and taverns would be prohibited under a bill that passed the Oregon Senate Tuesday on an 18-12 vote.

It is expected to undergo changes in the Oregon House, where exemptions for cigar bars, tobacco shops and the Portland Meadows racetrack could be stripped away.

Most Senate Democrats united behind the proposal, saying it would protect the 35,000 Oregonians who work in bars and taverns from the well-documented dangers of secondhand smoke, including an increased risk of asthma and lung cancer.

"The right to a healthy life is endangered by the presence of secondhand smoke in many indoor places," said Sen. Ginny Burdick, D-Portland, who sponsored the bill. "Bar and restaurant workers are 50 percent more likely to get lung cancer than those who work in nonsmoking areas."

Most Republicans, meanwhile, voted against the plan, saying it would take away the freedom of adults to make their own choices, in venues that are off-limits to children.

"People have the right to make choices, even if you think those choices are bad," said State Sen. Ted Ferrioli, R-John Day. "Oregonians don't need their senators to make their choices for them."

But the bill split a few lawmakers from their parties.

Two Republicans &

Sens. Frank Morse of Albany and David Nelson of Pendleton &

sided with the Democrats, while three rural-area Democrats voted against the plan.

One, Sen. Joanne Verger of Coos Bay, said she was infuriated by the limited exemptions in the bill &

particularly for Portland Meadows, which has been losing business to Indian-run casinos that are not subject to Oregon regulations.

Why, Verger asked, was there no such exemption for the bars and taverns in her district &

many of which are located far closer to Indian casinos?

"The political favoritism in this bill is more than disappointing," Verger said. "We exempt those who know how to use political clout, and the rest are left with the consequences &

they can just go chew gum."

After the floor debate, Burdick said she agreed with Verger's concerns, and said she'd push for a stripped-down version of the bill in the House.

If it passes there and is signed by Gov. Ted Kulongoski, the bill wouldn't become law until 2009. Lawmakers agreed to put off the law's start date after economists estimated that it would cause a $25 million per year hit to the state budget, because of the potential for reduced video lottery play and a drop in the tax revenue the state collects from sales of alcohol and cigarettes.

Twenty other states have already passed bills barring smoking in bars and taverns, including both Washington and California; Minnesota is the latest state to sign off on such a ban, earlier this month.

Smoking has been banned for the past five years in most indoor spaces in Oregon. But the powerful Oregon Restaurant Association fought extending the ban to bars and taverns, arguing that it would hurt small businesses.

But this session, the ban took on an air of inevitability, with advocates saying they'd put it on the 2008 ballot if lawmakers failed to act. Polls have shown that the proposal would pass comfortably.

The Senate version of the bill would also ban smoking within 10 feet of the door, window, or ventilation system of bars and taverns. But hotel and motel owners would still be able to set aside up to 25 percent of their rooms for smokers.

State health officials say smoking is one of the top causes of death in Oregon, more so than motor vehicle crashes, suicide, AIDS and homicides put together.


Eds: The bill is SB571

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