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NEW YORK -- What began thirty years ago as a unique movement in California to ban smoking in restaurants has evolved into a nationwide concern, as more than half of Americans live in a city or state that passed laws mandating that workplaces, restaurants or bars must be smoke-free, reported The Associated Press.
"The movement for smoke-free air has gone from being a California oddity to the nationwide norm," said Bronson Frick, associate director of the Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights group. "We think 100 percent of Americans will live in smoke-free jurisdictions within a few years."
The group estimates that seven states and 116 communities passed smoke-free laws in 2006, bringing the total to 22 states and 577 municipalities. The most recent ban, in Nevada, increased the population under such jurisdictions to 50.2 percent, the report stated.
"The Nevada vote shows that when people are given accurate information about the dangers of secondhand smoke, it's almost a no-brainer" to support anti-smoking initiatives, said Susan Burgess, founder of the anti-smoking group Smokefree Charlotte.
Washington, D.C. also recently passed laws prohibiting smoking in public places, including in the Speaker's Lobby adjacent to the House floor.
"That's how life is now. They're banning smoking everywhere," Representative Devin Nunes, of Calif., an occasional smoker, told the AP.
However, not all officials are convinced that anti-smoking legislations are beneficial to everyone involved.
"There's a fear that we would lose restaurant business to nearby towns if we passed a smoking ordinance," Moline, Ill., Mayor Don Walvaert told the AP. "Before acting, we would need real proof that cities have not experienced business losses because of smoking regulations."
A group of Nevada business owners have challenged the law, claiming that the ban which can be enforced in restaurants, convenience stores and bars that serve food, is unconstitutional, vague and unenforceable, the report stated.
A business owner in Columbia Mo., expressed his disapproval of the local ban with a sign that said "Smoking allowed until Jan. 9, City Council banning beer next, and hopefully, karaoke!" the AP reported.
Tobacco company R.J. Reynolds will fight the bans at adult-only businesses such as bars, as the laws step on the rights of business owners and adversely affects business, spokesman David Howard told the AP.
Seven other states have pending anti-smoking legislation, according to Amy Winterfeld, health policy analyst for the National Conference of State Legislatures.
"When you see an issue like this passing in a number of states it does give it momentum in other states," Winterfeld told the AP. "It's certainly possible that a number of states will take it up this year."