Tobacco Companies Take Aim at Oregon Ballot Measure
SALEM, Ore. (AP) _ The tobacco industry is mounting an expensive campaign to try to snuff out an Oregon ballot measure that would create the nation’s toughest anti-smoking law.
But opponents of Measure 6 will have their work cut out for them because a recent statewide poll found strong public support for it.
Tobacco companies are using mass mailings of brochures, newsletters and voter registration kits in hopes of scuttling Measure 6 on the Nov. 8 ballot.
″We’re going to spend a lot of money,″ at least several hundred thousand dollars, said Mark Nelson, a Salem lobbyist who’s running the campaign to defeat Measure 6. ″We’re going to make a major effort on this.″
The anti-smoking proposal would toughen the 1981 Oregon Indoor Clean Air Act, which makes most public buildings off limits to smokers, except in designated smoking areas.
The new proposal, if approved, would wipe out designated smoking areas and ban smoking in virtually all indoor work areas and enclosed places frequented by the public. Violators would be subject to civil penalties of up to $250.
Smoking still would be allowed in bars and taverns, tobacco stores, and hotel and motel rooms.
The Oregon Lung Association led a petition drive to win a spot on the ballot for the proposal.
Gerry Odisio, who is coordinating the campaign for the Lung Association, said non-smokers should not have to put up with secondhand smoke in public facilities or workplaces.
″What we’re talking about is a public health measure,″ Odisio said. ″We know that secondhand smoke causes disease, including lung cancer in otherwise healthy non-smokers.″
″Study after study has shown unhealthful levels of tobacco smoke in non- smoking sections,″ she said.
That is disputed by Maura Payne, spokeswoman for R.J. Reynolds Tobacco USA.
″There’s no substantive, scientific support for the contention that environmental tobacco smoke causes any significant threat to the health of non-smokers,″ she said.
In a telephone interview from the company’s office in Winston-Salem, N.C., Payne called Measure 6 a dangerous abridgement of the rights of a minority group - smokers.
″Even if you’re a non-smoker, you should be careful of government infringement on other people’s rights,″ she said. ″Maybe next they’re going to try to restrict whether people eat red meat or attend rock concerts that neighbors find too noisy.″
A former Oregon Supreme Court justice, Betty Roberts, voices similar concerns about possible infringement of civil liberties.
In a letter distributed by opponents of Measure 6, Roberts warned that it would ″authorize search warrants to root out evidence of illegal smoking, and even bring about police arrests of fine-ignoring citizens.″
Odisio dismisses those concerns as unfounded, saying no one has been fined or taken to court for violating the current law.
″It’s a self-enforcing law,″ Odisio said. ″It is passed with the understanding that most Oregon citizens are law-abiding.″
She said 42 states have some sort of statewide restriction on smoking, including such things as banning smoking on elevators, and that 36 of those restrict smoking in a wide variety of public places with designated smoking or non-smoking areas. The proposed Oregon law, she said, would be the first to drop all designated areas.
Other groups pitching in to try to defeat the measure are the Oregon AFL- CIO, Associated Oregon Industries, and the Oregon Restaurant and Beverage Association.
The president of the Oregon State Bowling Council, Bob Wells, said Measure 6 would hurt his industry because a lot of bowlers are smokers.
″If they would not be allowed to smoke for that two-hour period, they would drop out of the sport altogether or cut down on the number of times they bowl,″ he said.
Wells estimated bowling alleys would lose at least 10 percent of their customers if Measure 6 passes, and argued that the existing law has been a success in providing separate accommodations for smokers and non-smokers.
Odisio said the proposal is part of a nationwide trend.
″It’s just a case of Oregon being one small step in front of everybody else,″ she said. ″We’re not way out in left field, we just happen to be at the front of the parade.″
A poll conducted for The Oregonian newspaper in Portland Sept. 6-7 asked 400 registered voters how they would vote on several measures that will be on the statewide ballot. Measure 6 was favored by 62 percent of those surveyed in the telephone poll and opposed by 36 percent. The rest were undecided.
The margin of error was 4.9 percent.