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story.lead_photo.caption Rep. Justin Gonzales, R-Okolona, is shown in this file photo.

Smoke-filled workplaces, made a relic by Arkansas lawmakers in 2006, would be allowed under legislation filed by a Republican House member on Tuesday.

Rep. Justin Gonzales, R-Okolona, filed House Bill 1696, which would exempt private businesses and employers from the Arkansas Clean Indoor Air Act of 2006, which bans smoking in most public buildings. Public places of employment, such as the state Capitol or a county courthouse, would still be designated as nonsmoking.

The legislation comes as another cohort of lawmakers -- 16 Republicans and four Democrats -- have signed onto a proposal to raise the state's smoking age to 21. In Little Rock, a coalition of activists and health care professionals have been pushing the city's Board of Directors for two years to pass an ordinance removing lingering exemptions to the 2006 law that allow smoking in certain bars and restaurants.

"It's not an opportune time to be weakening tobacco laws," said David Oberembt, the Arkansas government relations director for the American Heart Association.

A recent "epidemic" in vaping, or electronic cigarette use, by U.S. teens as declared by the U.S. surgeon general has brought renewed focus to the issue of smoking, Oberembt said. Arkansas already has the third highest rate of youth cigarette use, according to the Centers for Disease Control, and smoking among adults is above the national average. The CDC estimated that about 24 percent of adult Arkansans smoked cigarettes in 2016.

[RELATED: Complete Democrat-Gazette coverage of the Arkansas Legislature]

Even Gonzales, the bill's sponsor, said he was not aware of any workplaces that want to allow smoking. He said the bill developed out of concern for property rights, rather than a request from a constituent.

"I don't know if people would choose to, but it's an option people should have," Gonzales said of business owners.

Arkansas is one of 34 states that ban smoking in both public and private workplaces, according to the CDC, which advocates for indoor smoking bans as "the only way to fully protect nonsmokers from exposure to secondhand smoke."

Secondhand smoke causes 41,000 deaths among nonsmokers annually in the U.S., according to the CDC.

In addition to restaurants and bars that serve only people over the age of 21, the Clean Indoor Air Act already exempts hotels that have designated smoking rooms, long-term care facilities with designated smoking areas and businesses with fewer than three employees. HB1696 would remove all those exemptions from law, and replace them with language allowing the owner of a business to decide whether to allow smoking.

Gonzales said he did not dispute that the bill could lead to an increase in health problems caused by secondhand smoke, but he said that employees could simply choose not to work somewhere that allows smoking.

The Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce has not reviewed or taken a position on the bill, President Randy Zook said Tuesday. Zook offered that it may be a bygone notion that a business owner would have the desire to allow smoking.

"I can't imagine anyone would choose to do that," Zook said. "We've kind of moved past that."

The 2006 effort to ban smoking in workplaces was championed by a former governor, Mike Huckabee, in the last year of his administration. At the time, lawmakers estimated that three-quarters of workplaces in the state were smoke-free.

The current governor, Republican Asa Hutchinson, had not reviewed the legislation Tuesday, a spokesman said.

Metro on 03/06/2019

Print Headline: Bill filed to lighten state smoking ban

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Archived Comments

  • Popsmith
    March 6, 2019 at 8:36 a.m.

    Hell no! I lost a job because a supervisor wanted to smoke and I voiced my objections on behalf of others who didn't want her secondhand smoke.

  • MS6321
    March 6, 2019 at 9:34 a.m.

    NO!! Having watched my spouse die slowly and painfully from years of smoking, I beg the representatives to dismiss this mis-guided and dangerous bill.

  • MBAIV
    March 6, 2019 at 11:34 a.m.

    No !!!!!!

  • JIMGAIL61788GMAILCOM
    March 6, 2019 at 12:17 p.m.

    Hey! Gonzales why don't you just CHOKE them to death.

  • ARMNAR
    March 6, 2019 at 3:02 p.m.

    Hell to the no!

    Who is this moron?

  • GeneralMac
    March 6, 2019 at 4:08 p.m.

    Smokers demanding a cure for lung cancer reminds me of HOMOSEXUAL male couples (30 + years ago )demanding a cure for AIDS.

  • eaglescout
    March 6, 2019 at 5:08 p.m.

    When a story is shown on TV about smoking, have you noticed how nasty the fingernails are on the smokers shown?

  • hillcrest05
    March 6, 2019 at 5:16 p.m.

    Like the vote on the Confederate star on the State Flag, headlines like this will bring good companies with good jobs lining up to come here, with our enlightened lawmakers.

  • Foghorn
    March 6, 2019 at 5:38 p.m.

    Gonzalez is a F-ing moron - full stop. This is a regressive, reductive, DESTRUCTIVE bill. He fails to realize in addition to raising revenue it will raise healthcare costs exponentially more. Someone needs to roll up the bill and slap him repeatedly across his stupid face with it and then make him eat it. Moron.

  • ARMNAR
    March 6, 2019 at 5:49 p.m.

    KlansmanMaKKK is extra-obsessed with homosexuality today.

    Too bad Freud isn't alive and practicing in Harrison.

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