Light Sentence?


Michigan and Illinois may outlaw smoking at public schools. In California, public-transit employees may be "deputized" so they can enforce no-smoking rules on buses and subways. In Oklahoma, persons caught smoking at nursing homes or day-care centers may go to jail for 30 days.

At least 16 states have passed, or are considering, legislation that changes penalties against smoking in public places from civil to criminal offenses. A more ominous trend, however, is the way some of these pending bills expand the definition of "public" space.

In Washington and Massachusetts, for instance, proposed bills would ban smoking in any automobile transporting a passenger younger than 16. And in Utah, a bill forbids smoking on any state-owned property-including inside private cars on state highways.

Tobacco Institute Vice President Thomas Lauria predicts these three bills won't pass. But ordinances that would regulate smoking on private property, he says, are getting more ambitious. As an example, Lauria cites Minnesota anti-smoking activists who are trying to find a sponsor for a bill that would ban smoking in condominium complexes that have "common air space"—say, a shared ventilation system.

In Los Angeles, a ban on smoking in restaurants went into effect on August 2. The ban may be reversed, however. A bill that was recently approved by the state Assembly would preempt local smoking regulations approved after April 1.