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MOST BUILDINGS IN UTAH TO GO SMOKE-FREE

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Utah will ring in the new year with the nation's toughest ban on smoking in public buildings. All Utah restaurants - and nearly all other public buildings - will be smoke-free.

"This is extremely important, because it has been proven that second-hand smoke causes major health problems, especially indoors," said co-sponsor Sen. Robert Montgomery, R-North Ogden. "In the out of doors, particles dissipate fairly rapidly so there's not much contamination outside. Indoors, it lasts in the ambient air for long periods of time."The new Indoor Clean Air Act prohibits smoking in businesses that are open to the public. And it protects employees from the dangerous effects of second-hand smoke in non-public businesses by setting forth specific guidelines for smoking areas, ventilation and policy.

Private clubs, taverns and bars, fraternal, religious and social organizations, designated areas at the airport, hotel and motel rooms and facilities leased for private functions will be exempt.

But the rule to spell out the details about where smoking is and isn't allowed will not become final until Feb. 15 at the earliest.

The law is as clear as unpolluted air on most issues. But on a few questions, the Utah Indoor Clean Air Act is somewhat murkier, and the regulation will attempt to clarify them.

One of the hazier areas in the act concerns nursing homes and hospitals. At issue is whether smokers who are patients should be forced to quit cold turkey or go outside to smoke.

Arguably, that dictum would interfere with their civil liberties. But to force them out in bad weather could jeopardize their health.

"We put a specific section in the (revised) rule that says that hospitals or nursing homes may build a smoking-permitted room," said Richard Clark, director of the Utah Health Department's Bureau of Environmental Services.

A proviso adds that the room can't allow smoke to drift into other areas of the facility.

The health department is also considering allowing bowling alleys to "rent their facilities" to leagues and thus allow smoking during league play, according to Montgomery, who calls it a "loophole not intended by the sponsors."

The public would not be allowed in during that time and the alley would otherwise be nonsmoking.

The new regulation will be published on Jan. 15, with public comment through Feb. 14. A hearing on the revisions is scheduled for Feb. 6 in Salt Lake City.

Steve Hadden of the department's Bureau of Health Promotion said the law itself will still go into effect on Jan. 1, even without the regulation.

The purpose of the regulation is to clarify, "or set up steps for implementing what the intent and spirit of the act itself is, where that's not totally clear," Hadden said. But for most of the act, people should have few questions, he said.

Utah is the first to implement the law, which was patterned after Vermont legislation that will go into effect in July. California has a similar ban that will take effect later this year.