December 4, 2002
Contact: Bonnie Widerburg, (971) 673-1282
New second-hand smoke law marks successful first year
Poll shows most Oregonians support Smokefree Workplace Law
As it ends its first year, Oregon's smokefree workplace law appears to have strong support: 76 percent of Oregonians in a recent statewide poll said they support it and the state has received only 128 actionable complaints of possible violations.
"Thanks to Oregon's Smokefree Workplace law, most workers do not have to choose between their jobs and their health; everyone deserves clean air," said Ken McGee, tobacco prevention and education manager in the Oregon Department of Human Services (DHS).
The law went into effect Jan. 1, 2002. Passed by the Oregon legislature in 2001, it extended protection from second-hand smoke to an additional 500,000 people statewide not already covered by local or voluntary policies banning smoking indoors.
Oregon's Smokefree Workplace law requires almost all employers to ensure their workplaces are smokefree and display "No Smoking" signs. Exceptions include bars and taverns, bingo parlors, tobacco stores, bowling alleys and hotel and motel rooms designated as smoking rooms.
Judging by official complaints to the state, compliance to the new law is very high. According to McGee, the number of "actionable" complaints is low. Actionable complaints are those that require DHS official follow-up.
There are more than 100,000 workplaces in Oregon. The state has received only 128 actionable complaints of a possible violation requiring action by DHS.
As a result of these complaints, 128 individual businesses have received official follow-up letters from DHS. To date, no citations have been issued and no employer has been fined. "Follow-up is getting good results," said McGee. "We're pleased that businesses are complying quickly."
"That tells us Oregonians have the message, loud and clear: smoking is dangerous to smokers and non-smokers. Because of this important law, most workers are no longer forced to involuntarily breathe the toxins contained in second-hand smoke," said Mel Kohn, M.D., state epidemiologist.
Tobacco Prevention and Education Program estimates about 33,000 Oregonians remain unprotected from indoor second-hand smoke at work. Most of these workers are employed in bars and restaurants. "While the law does not cover bars and bar/restaurant combinations, many such establishments statewide have voluntarily chosen to go smokefree," said McGee. He added that more than 100 bars in the Portland Metro area alone are now smokefree.
"Exposure to second-hand smoke is a serious health risk, it's the third leading cause of preventable death in the country, killing 53,000 non-smokers each year," said McGee.
Employees and the public may confidentially report violations of the law by calling a toll-free number or by alerting their county health department. The Oregon toll-free number is: (866) 621-6107. Local agencies will investigate and pursue violations of Oregon's Smokefree Workplace Law. If a business is found to be in violation of the new law, employers face fines up to $1,000 in a 30-day period.