Gov. Donald Carcieri believes the legislation will protect workers and others from the health risks associated with secondhand smoke.
"This is about creating healthier, safer, cleaner environments for all employees," Carcieri said. "It's about putting a major incentive in place to encourage residents to stop smoking. It's about protecting workers from the dangers of secondhand smoke and ensuring the well-being of Rhode Islanders of all ages. Reducing smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke is crucial to our efforts to create a healthier workforce and build a more competitive state."
The Public Health and Workplace Safety Act, which Carcieri signed into law last June, prohibits smoking in all enclosed places within the state, including bars and restaurants; concert halls and other venues for the arts; lobbies and other common areas in apartment buildings, condominiums and residential buildings with more than four units; public transportation facilities; shopping malls, including partially enclosed parking areas; indoor and outdoor sports arenas; and businesses. Employers are allowed to designate outdoor smoking areas, as long as those areas are physically separated from the workplace to prevent secondhand smoke from wafting indoors.
The law also stipulates that all public places and businesses must post no-smoking signs at every entrance. Signs must contain the words, "It is illegal to smoke in this establishment."
Employers who break the no-smoking law can be fined $250 for the first violation, $500 for the second and $1,000 for three or more.
While the Public Health and Workplace Safety Act covers most public places and workplaces in Rhode Island, the cities of Lincoln Park and Newport Grand are exempt. Class C & D liquor license establishments will go smokefree on Oct. 1, 2006.
Health official believes businesses will cooperate
Data from other states with similar no-smoking legislation has shown that businesses and the general public are embracing the laws, according to Elizabeth Harvey, manager of the Tobacco Control Program at the Rhode Island Department of Health.
"Compliance overall has been good and people are breathing easier," Harvey said. "We expect that this law will be implemented quickly and efficiently, with businesses cooperating fully. In fact, many restaurants have already gone smoke-free, to the delight of waitstaff and customers."
The state's Department of Health is partnering with the Worksite Wellness Council of Rhode Island and several onsite treatment agencies to provide services at worksites if requested. Services include free patches, free gum and free counseling through the 1-800-Try-To-Stop Smokers' Information Center ( 879-8678). For services in Spanish, call Ya No Fumo at (401) 728-5920.
To coincide with the law taking effect, more than 40,000 business owners will receive free no-smoking signs, a fact sheet about the law and an order form for additional materials to help them implement the law. Materials are available in English and Spanish.
To learn more about the law, enforcement of the law, free quitting services or how to order materials, go to http://www.health.ri.gov/disease/tobacco or call (401) 222-3293.