Health officials clearing the air on smoking law
New statewide restrictions take effect Thursday
The only place he'll be able to smoke when Hawaii's new Smoke-Free Law takes effect Thursday is "basically home," says Cullen Coughlan, 23.
But even that doesn't work for Alberta Silva, 36, who already smokes outside the house because her five children say "it stinks."
Coughlan, who has smoked more than 11 years, doesn't plan to quit, saying, "I need cigarettes to take care of my nicotine habit."
But Silva said she wants to stop smoking and lose weight. "I just want to be healthier. I've just got to do a lot of praying for some kind of willingness. I know I can't do it on my own."
JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
Diane Lobre, second from right, laughs as Kari Wheeling of Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies, left, and Deborah Zysman and Natalie Reyes of the Coalition for a Tobacco-free Hawaii prepare information packets at that group's office in Makiki. About 1,500 packets were sent to Hawaii bars and restaurants to explain the new smoking law.
As smokers grapple with the personal impact of a restrictive new law that clamps down on smoking in public places, supporters are planning celebrations for the American Cancer Society's "Great American Smokeout."
"The fun part is there's going to be a big blowout at a smoke-free lounge at the O Lounge, a very hip club," said Deborah Zysman, Coalition for a Tobacco-free Hawaii director. The public is invited to the "fresh air celebration" from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday at 1349 Kapiolani.
Hawaii is the 14th state to enact a restrictive anti-smoking law, joining an international movement to protect people from serious health effects of secondhand smoke exposure.
Besides the Smoke-Free Law, the Legislature raised the cigarette tax 20 cents per pack each year for five years, for a total of $2.60. The tax went from $1.40 to $1.60 Sept. 30, hiking the cost of a pack of cigarettes from more than $5 to as much as $6.66.
"You could do a lot with those dollars," said Julian Lipsher, state Health Department Tobacco Prevention and Education Program public health educator.
People have been working at least 15 years to increase smoking restrictions in Hawaii, Zysman said. The Coalition for a Tobacco-Free Hawaii worked hard at passing no-smoking county ordinances, which led to the law passed by the last Legislature, she said.
It squeezes smokers out of all enclosed and partially enclosed workplaces, bars, nightclubs, airports and shopping malls, including outdoor areas and any place where food and beverages are served.
A high rate of compliance is expected, because 85 percent of the community said they supported it, Zysman said.
SMOKING NO LONGER ALLOWED
Smoking will be banned starting Thursday at:
» Enclosed or partially enclosed state or county-owned facilities and places open to the public, including private businesses
» Workplaces, private homes used for adult or child care, health care facilities and private membership clubs that employ people
» Restaurants and bars, including outdoor patios and lanai, luaus and other events where food and drinks are served
» Within 20 feet of doorways, windows and ventilation intakes, to prevent secondhand smoke from drifting into enclosed areas
» All airports, from cabin to curb
» Enclosed or partially enclosed seating areas of sports arenas, stadiums and amphitheaters
Smoking still allowed in some indoor areas
The following exceptions to the smoking ban are allowed so long as smoke doesn't drift into a no-smoking area:
» Designated hotel and motel smoking rooms (up to 20 percent)
» Private and semi-private rooms of nursing homes and long-term care facilities
» Retail tobacco stores
» Outdoor areas of employment that aren't covered by the smoke-free law
» All areas covered by the law when smoking is part of a production being filmed
» State correctional facilities, although some facilities have been designated smoke-free
Need help quitting?
Islanders who want to quit smoking can get help by calling the Hawaii Tobacco Quitline, 1-800-QUIT NOW (1-800-784-8669), or going online to www.callitquitshawaii.org.
The American Lung Association of Hawaii also has a "Freedom from Smoking" clinic to help smokers quit in the workplace. A series of eight group sessions is held over several weeks.
The group's president, Sterling Yee, said the program uses a positive behavior approach "that shows smokers how to give up the habit and even have fun with the group as you quit together."
Cigarette smoking causes an estimated 90 percent of lung cancer cases, Yee pointed out, and the five-year survival rate has increased from 13 percent in 1971 to only 15.5 percent today.
About 600 new lung cancer cases are anticipated this year in Hawaii, he said.
Human resources departments are encouraged to contact the lung association for information on scheduling workplace smoking cessation clinics. The program also is offered at various locations on most islands. For more information, call 537-5966, ext. 216.
The state Department of Health and tobacco-control groups have been conducting public information campaigns for the past six months, giving free presentations and distributing thousands of packets and postcards to help businesses and others understand the law.
Still, some people didn't get the word. Kris Lewis, 22, said he hadn't heard about it and it doesn't concern him. "I'll just go somewhere else to smoke, wherever it's designated."
The law isn't a big change for many parts of the community, Lipsher said, but for others, such as bars and nightclubs, "It represents some significant changes."
Businesses either must have conspicuously posted signs with wording, "Smoking Prohibited by Law," or the international No Smoking symbol, Lipsher said.
"Realizing this is a customer service issue ... we asked designers for design of new signage and a catalog of different options businesses can use," he said.
"This law isn't intended to penalize businesses," he emphasized. "Our approach is to help people comply. ... We should be judged on how many fines we don't write and how much compliance there is to the law."
Individuals can be fined up to $50, plus court costs, for violations. Businesses can be fined up to $100 for the first offense, $200 for a second one within a year, and up to $500 for each additional violation within a year of the preceding violation.
Liquor licenses, food service permits or other permits could be suspended or revoked.
The Health Department is working on administrative rules that outline how enforcement will work, said spokeswoman Janice Okubo. Hearings will be held for public comment once they're completed.
People are asked to call the information line, 211, if they see the law being violated, she said. "But our focus is going to be on education, building awareness," she added, with warnings rather than penalties in the first six months.
ALTRES Inc., has provided expertise and resources to help its clients and other businesses comply with the law, said John Fielding, director of risk management.
He and others from his department have been going to business sites to inform them of the 20-foot regulation and help identify areas where people can't smoke, he said.
He's expecting to be swamped with calls as the deadline approaches. "It's too late to be for or against the law," Fielding said. "It's time to abide by the law."
Enforcement will be the hardest part, he said. "I think all businesses should be responsible and do their part in monitoring and talking and educating their employees."
Lipsher said he and others from tobacco-control groups had been doing walk-throughs of property for businesses, hotels, the airports, Hawaii Convention Center and other places to help them comply with the law.
"There are ways to accommodate smokers within the law," he noted. "It is not a ban on smoking anywhere on the entire property."
Erica Neves, director of tourism at Ala Moana Center, said No Smoking signs would be posted throughout the center on Thursday, but the center's operations team is looking into areas on the perimeter where smoking might be allowed.
"We want to make sure everyone has an enjoyable shopping experience," she said. "We still want to accommodate visitors from Japan -- a large number are smokers -- and make sure they enjoy the experience as well."
Dr. David Wolkoff of Kahi Mohala Behavioral Health said the hospital started 2006 with a smoke-free policy. "We were going to install a pagoda thing off in a corner of the campus (for smokers), but it ended up a logistical nightmare."
Going totally smoke-free was easier, and hasn't affected the hospital's business, he said. Patients who want to be in a psychiatric hospital will now have to stop smoking, because Castle Medical Center is smoke-free and Queen's is going to be, he said.
Actually, Wolkoff said, "We've had less problems than we had before. Before, we had power struggles over a cigarette. Patients would be in withdrawal all the time and irritable all the time. Now they're just irritable the first couple days."
The hospital started an exercise program and has offered staff and patients a lot of support and strategies to quit smoking, he said.
Queen's Medical Center will become smoke-free Thursday and is offering a variety of smoking cessation resources to patients and staff.
Dr. Paul Morris, who headed the committee that drafted the new no-smoking policy, said, "As health care providers who treat the detrimental effects of smoking every day, we believe it's our responsibility to set a good example and make the entire campus smoke-free."