Howard Loflin of Clovis smokes a cigarette Monday at Kripple Creek Restaurant. Loflin has smoked on and off for 25 years and enjoys smoking while eating out. (Staff photo: Andy DeLislie
By Marlena Hartz: CNJ staff writer
When Carla Casaus dines out with her 5-month-old daughter, smokers — like the man who lit a cigarette at the bar just feet from her and her baby during their Monday lunch — can ruin the experience.
“I don’t think it’s fair for my child. She doesn’t have the voice to say, ‘You can’t smoke around me.’
“And when I’m eating, it takes away from the taste of the food,” Casaus said.
Proponents of smoke-free public places, such as Casaus, have a new ally.
The U.S. surgeon general issued a report last week that says smoking sections do not shield bystanders from the harmful effects of secondhand smoke.
The report sharpens the debate that fueled smoking bans in California, Florida and New York.
Parts of New Mexico, including Santa Fe, Roswell, Edgewood and Dona Ana County, have already banned smoking in restaurants and bars. Albuquerque also bans smoking in restaurants, but excludes stand-alone bars.
Smoking is no longer allowed on Plains Regional Medical Center and Curry County Courthouse property.
“I think eventually the whole country will adopt indoor smoke ordinances. How soon it will happen, I am not sure,” said Linda Teakell, who has crusaded for an indoor smoking ordinance in Clovis for years as the coordinator of Curry Citizens Concerned About Tobacco.
“When you go to a restaurant,” she said, “you know there are certain laws that protect you, for instance, in the handling of meat or sanitation. Why can’t we go that one step further?”
So far, Teakell and local smoking ban advocates have been unsuccessful in passing such an ordinance in Clovis. But Teakell says she will incorporate evidence from the new report to educate citizens about the harms of secondhand smoke.
The report concludes that there is no risk-free level of exposure to secondhand smoke. The only way to protect nonsmokers from the chemicals released in secondhand smoke would be to eliminate smoking indoors, the report reads.
“The health effects of secondhand smoke are more pervasive than we previously thought,” said Surgeon General Richard Carmona, according to a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services press release.
“The scientific evidence is now indisputable: Secondhand smoke is not a mere annoyance. It is a serious health hazard” that can lead to lung cancer, heart disease, respiratory infections and Sudden Infant Death Snydrome, Carmona said.
Clovis commissioners said they cannot predict whether an ordinance that prohibits smoking in restaurants and bars would be passed. In 1998, commissioners opted against such an ordinance, according to Teakell.
“Generally, I don’t favor the government issuing ordinances against smoking in restaurants and bars. I think it should be up to the business owners,” Commissioner Fred Van Soelen said.
Some local restaurant managers and employees said smoking sections in their establishments are popular, and they would be reluctant to do away with the option for their smoking customers.
Yet, smoking sections in other local restaurants have already been retired, including Leal’s on North Prince Street, Red Lobster and the Wagon Wheel in Portales.
“There are not many places you can go to smoke anymore,” Kripple Creek Restaurant Manager Diana Romero said.
The restaurant has one of the spaciest smoking sections in Clovis.
“We have a lot of customers who smoke. And they should have that option,” she said.
Over coffee and cigarettes at the casual restaurant, Danny Tipton and his son said they simply do not patronize restaurants that have banned smoking.
“Military men fight and die to keep this country free. As far as I am concerned, (a smoking ban) is a slap in the face to every soldier that fought for this country and the freedom it stands for,” Tipton said.