Cold Steel, Cold Turkey: N.Y.

Stubs Out Cigarettes in Jails

It sounded puritanical enough to ban smoking from the city's bars and restaurants. Now New Yorkers can't even smoke in jail.

When Mayor Michael Bloomberg signed smoking ban legislation last week, he included the city's 15 jails and detention centers.

By the end of March, the city's 14,300 inmates won't be able to buy cigarettes from detention center commissaries.

"We're studying the legislation," Corrections Department spokesman Thomas Antenen said. "We will be putting a plan into effect."

Corrections officials are deciding whether to introduce smoking cessation classes or sell patches to help inmates break their habit. Antenen cited data from the American Correctional Association showing that 17 states adopted smoking bans without major problems.

"There are many jail systems and prison systems that have implemented smoke-free facilities," he said. "The jails and prison systems that have implemented them have not had any major negative effects."

-- Christine Haughney

And in El Paso, a Crusader Crows

As Smokers Fume Over Law

Months before New York City got tough on smoking, there was . . . El Paso.

The nation's 17th-largest city banned smoking in virtually every enclosed public place a year ago and has promoted itself as a model ever since. No one is prouder than Larry Medina, a city council member who led the charge.

"We were the first," Medina said. "Other cities, they always excluded bars and clubs -- it was just too tough for them. When we did our ordinance, we did it all the way."

A former smoker, Medina travels nationwide to preach the gospel of tough anti-smoking laws. Having been to Orlando, Washington and Atlanta, he is weighing invitations from overseas; India and Finland want to know how El Paso did it.

"Have you ever read accounts of someone who jumped in the river and saved someone's life? That's the way I feel every single day," he said. "It makes you feel like a real hero."

At home, not everyone is so impressed. The Eagle's Nest Bar has posted on its Web site a petition to repeal the ordinance. And smokers are furious.

"Adults have the right to do what we want to do -- to smoke or not to smoke," smoker Gregory Willems told the El Paso Times. "All [the] council has done is make everyone into lawbreakers. Don't we have better things to do with police?"

-- Lee Hockstader

Heels and Rights: Key West Effort

Seeks to Protect Cross-Dressers

Muddy gender identity, by all appearances, is quite the thing in the perpetual party zones in Key West.

Men dressed as women croon Diana Ross hits. Women dressed as men strut around in chaps. There are women who used to be men and some in various stages of getting there.

But as open and accepting as it looks, some in Key West are worried that the city's sizable population of cross-dressers, drag queens and those who have undergone sex change operations might become victims of discrimination and harassment.

Tom Oosterhoudt, a gay Key West city commissioner, knows something about discrimination. Twenty years ago, his first lover was a drag queen. Oosterhoudt says they were kicked out of apartments, ridiculed and lost jobs because of the way his partner dressed.

Key West might be a haven of acceptance, Oosterhoudt said, but he still hears allegations of discrimination, including the recent firing of a cross-dressing supermarket worker. So Oosterhoudt proposed adding the transgender community and cross-dressers to the city's anti-discrimination law, which would make Key West Florida's first city to so amend its human rights ordinance. The proposal passed its first vote last month and is up for a final vote this week.

"I just want Key West to be in the vanguard of human rights," Oosterhoudt said.

-- Manuel Roig-Franzia

As Calif. Fights Avian Disease,

Poultry Growers Suffer a Toll

It is like the Hot Zone for chickens. Officials have quarantined poultry operations in San Diego, Orange, San Bernardino and Riverside counties after investigators found sick birds infected with the deadly avian virus that causes Exotic Newcastle Disease, referred to as the "END."

Newcastle is almost 100 percent lethal for birds, and the virus's last eruption in 1971 infected 1,341 California flocks and led to the destruction of 12 million chickens at a public cost of $56 million. The epidemic threatened to bring the national egg industry to its knees. The current outbreak is not yet so severe, but officials are scared. At least four large egg-laying facilities have been infected and more than 1 million birds slaughtered.

"This is an alarming situation that seriously threatens our poultry industry," said California Food and Agriculture Secretary William J. Lyons Jr.

Exotic Newcastle Disease does not pose a risk to humans, and infected poultry and eggs are safe to eat -- but the chickens are destroyed to control the spread of the highly contagious virus.

The source of the current outbreak remains unknown, but the virus appeared recently in small flocks of backyard chicken farms, where fowl are raised for food, display or illegal cockfights. In October, officials quarantined 50 backyard flocks after discovering the virus in 12 of them. About 5,700 birds were destroyed. Investigators suspect the virus may have entered the United States from Mexico, but it is easily spread by bird droppings, as well as the clothes and shoes of chicken wranglers.

-- William Booth