There’s no place for Tennessee to go but up in state health rankings with a new anti-smoking law that goes into effect Oct. 1, Tennessee Health Commissioner Susan Cooper said Tuesday.
“We’re 47th out of 50 states as far as health outcomes,” Cooper said of Tennessee during a stop in Johnson City to promote the smoking ban. “Over 26 percent of adults smoke in this state. What we know is when we look at chronic disease ... diabetes, heart disease, lung disease, all of the things that in the end cost us a lot of money and kills us, that you can really relate back to four behaviors — physical inactivity, poor nutrition, tobacco use and risky alcohol use. This is just our step to say ‘We’re not satisfied with being 47th out of 50th.’
“I’m convinced we can move from the bottom 10 to the top 10 healthy states going forward.”
Under this landmark law, smoking will become illegal in all enclosed public places with a few exceptions, according to the Tennessee Department of Health.
Both the Tennessee Department of Health and the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development will have authority to enforce the law.
The Department of Health will enforce the law for the establishments it inspects, like restaurants, health care facilities and hotels.
Cooper noted that the Tennessee Restaurant Association was one of the law’s backers.
“When you look at the experience in other states, the first thing that comes up (with restaurant operators) was ‘We’re going to lose money.’ But if you look at the data and the research, what you find is sales really go up,” she said.
The Department of Labor and Workforce Development will enforce the law for establishments it inspects, including manufacturing facilities, construction sites, retailers and sports arenas.
According to the law, a person who knowingly smokes in an area where smoking is prohibited is subject to a civil penalty of $50.
A business that knowingly fails to comply with the requirements of the new law faces a written warning within one year, a $100 civil penalty for the second violation, and a $500 fine for the third violation.
Cooper acknowledged that early on, enforcement will be very liberal.
“We’re going to spend the first several months of this doing what we’re doing now — educating the public,” she said. “We would say if someone is smoking in an establishment, we would suggest the manager or one of the employees come over and offer them an ashtray (to extinguish the cigarette). You don’t have to make a big deal out of it. It gets down to intent — is the person knowingly breaking the law, or is a manager who is responsible for an establishment knowingly not following the rules?
“What we think, though, is through proper education, we’ll be able to help support employers and workplaces in helping them to make right decisions. ... This isn’t about going around being the smoking police and looking for people who are breaking the law. This is about protecting non-smokers’ rights and helping to educate the public.”
For more about the new law go to http://health.state.tn.us/smokefreetennessee/.