Tougher enforcement of smoking in restaurants will wait a year.
A sponsor of a tough non-smoking law said the issue has turned from public health, which it should be, to a "Mormon moral issue," too difficult to unravel this late in the session.Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, clearly a bit frustrated, told senators that the smoking issue should be studied for a year, but he promised to revisit it next session.
The senator said he has been criticized by some for being a straight-laced Mormon trying to force his morals on others. He denies that, saying this is a public health issue.
Hillyard at first attempted to ban smoking from all restaurants except those with a state liquor license. That tied smoking to alcohol, which some senators objected to.
Hillyard then substantially changed his bill to require that all restaurants be smoke free except those certified by local health departments to have ventilation systems and physical barriers to keep the smoke in smoking sections away from non-smoking sections.
But, again, some senators said that would be too costly for many restaurants and that health departments didn't have clear guidelines on monitoring smoke in restaurants.
Hillyard countered that the Clean Air Act, as enforced, "is a joke."
"This is a public health issue, and we should face up to it or forget about it," he said.
He says out-of-state visitors note that restaurant patrons in other states can go to a restaurant and not be forced to inhale the cigarette smoke but that they often find problems in Utah restaurants.
"The $25 fine now in law is meaningless, just a cost of doing business for a restaurant owner," Hillyard said.
Hillyard promised to try to get $90,000 placed in the state health department budget in an effort to beef up inspections of restaurants. The current law is very strict - it says that cigarette smoke cannot be allowed to harm the health or even cause discomfort of non-smokers.
But local health officials say they have little money for enforcement - only $16,000 for 3,000 restaurants in Salt Lake County - and so have a hard time complying with the law.
Public health officials say second-hand smoke is the No. 1 indoor health hazard, with thousands of Americans dying each year of lung disease caused by second-hand smoke.