Coalition to launch campaign asking for LR city leaders to close indoor smoking loopholes

The Smoke Free Little Rock coalition will launch a campaign in November to urge residents to petition city directors to draft a local ordinance to close loopholes in the state's Indoor Clean Air Act. (Photo: KATV)

Smokers, for the most part, already have to take their habit outside, but a coalition of organizations in Little Rock is looking to take that one step further by asking city leaders to close indoor smoking loopholes in the law.

Back in 2006, the Arkansas State Legislature passed the Indoor Clean Air Act, banning the majority of smoking inside public places. But Matt Henry, public policy manager for the American Heart Association of Central Arkansas, believes the law doesn't go far enough.

"It put in a number of exemptions that still allow certain workplaces to have smoking," said Henry.

The exemptions include smoking allowed in designated hotel and motel rooms, small workplaces and the one visible to most - the exemption for restaurants and bars that only allow patrons ages 21 and up. Those bars that still allow smoking inside are required to post signs warning potential patrons of secondhand smoke.

While customers have the option to seek out non-smoking establishments, Henry claims it isn't for employees of those establishments to up and leave to find other work.

"No one should have to sacrifice their health in pursuit of a paycheck," said Henry.

It's why the American Heart Association, in tandem with the Smoke Free Little Rock coalition, are starting a campaign next month to ask Little Rock city directors to enact a local ordinance to close the loopholes in state law. Henry said the group doesn't plan to ask for a ban on smoking on bar or restaurant patios, just simply inside.

The campaign is set to kick off at The Fountain, a well-known Hillcrest neighborhood beer and wine bar that currently allows smoking, on November 8th. The Fountain will go smoke-free for the night and will announce plans as to the future of smoking in their establishment.

The majority of bars and restaurants in Little Rock are already smoke-free inside, like Dizzy's Gypsy Bistro in downtown Little Rock.

"We have a small section of the patio designated as smoking, but we do use common sense," said Darla Huie, owner of Dizzy's.

Huie said they'll often request their patio be completely non-smoking if a party with children or the elderly request to sit outside.

The decision to make the establishment non-smoking inside was purely a business decision, realizing that a large majority of people no longer take up the unhealthy habit, according to Huie. But as a smoker herself, Huie said banning smoking inside the less than one-percent of bars that still allow it, simply marginalizes a group that's already been kicked to the curb. Huie calls the move "political posturing".

"Don't go to Midtown, don't go to Grumpy's, don't go to White Water - don't go to those establishments," said Huie. "We will."

In response to secondhand smoke exposure for employees, Huie said those employees are more than welcome to apply to her restaurant or any of the other hundreds of restaurants and bars in Little Rock that don't allow indoor smoking.

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