GEORGE F. LEE / GLEE@STARBULLETIN.COM
Pigskins Sports Bar patron Joe Pizcatowski lit a cigarette in the Kapiolani Boulevard bar Thursday night while enjoying some leisure time.
Smoking-ban rules, enforcement coming
Bar owners OK with patrons defying smoking ban
STORY SUMMARY »
Some bar owners continue to ignore the Smoke-Free Workplace law while state officials work out rules and ways to enforce the ban.
As the law states, several bar owners posted "no smoking" signs inside and outside and informed customers it's illegal to smoke inside. But that's all the law asks of them, some bar owners say. Some leave out ashtrays and don't tell smokers to take it outside.
State Health Department officials say that's not enough. They expect rules to be set by November that will clarify the law to better enforce it and to fine violators.
FULL STORY »
Eddie Chant has been in Hawaii for only about a week and already he's defying the law.
Protest The Law
The Hawaii Bar Owners Association is participating in "World Defiance Day" to protest the state's smoking ban. They are joining bars across the world, especially in England, that oppose smoking bans.
Where: O'Toole's Irish Pub, 902 Nuuanu Ave.
When: 1 p.m. tomorrow
He was ready to go outside to smoke his cigarette while drinking a beer at Pigskins Sports Bar on Kapiolani Boulevard recently. Then he noticed everyone around him was smoking and saw ashtrays lining the bar.
"The bartender told us, 'The law says you can't smoke and I can't give you an ashtray. But they're over there,' " said Chant, 46, who recently moved from Cleveland.
With virtually no enforcement in the nearly eight months that the smoking ban has been in effect, some bar owners are essentially ignoring the law and finding loopholes that keep customers happy by letting them light up indoors.
It's left up to the state Department of Health, not the bar owners, to decide how to enforce the law that prohibits smoking in enclosed and partially enclosed areas and within 20 feet of entranceways. Health officials are still talking with the state Attorney General's Office to clarify the law and with county police departments on enforcement.
In the meantime, Pigskins bar owner Lance Gomes said he owns a smoking bar again. He has posted "no smoking" signs inside and outside and tells customers that smoking inside is illegal, in accordance with the law.
In the first three months after the smoking ban went into effect, Gomes said he tried to enforce it himself.
"I told people they had to smoke outside," Gomes said. "People were pissed. I had two people walk out on tabs. People were rained on outside. I lost 50 percent of my business. After that, I said I am going to be a smoking bar again and from that day, I was."
Since then, Gomes said his business went up 30 percent, but is still down about 20 percent from pre-ban days.
Fred Remington, co-owner of the Irish Rose Saloon, Kelley O'Neils and O'Toole's Irish Pub, said he is also following the law despite allowing people to smoke.
"We post the signs and we tell people smoking's prohibited," he said. "If the customer wants to take that chance and light up, I don't want them to burn down my bar, so I give them an ashtray."
Janice Okubo, the Health Department's spokeswoman, said the administrative rules will help clarify the business owners' role in the smoking ban. In warning letters issued to more than 100 businesses, the department says to "make reasonable efforts to ensure a smoke-free environment by removing all ashtrays and smoking paraphernalia" to be in compliance with the law.
Julian Lipsher, manager for the Health Department's Tobacco Prevention and Education Program, said it usually takes about a year for most states to have rules and regulations set up. As time passes, he expects more to comply with the ban.
"We have widespread compliance," he said. "It seems to be working well in a majority of places that comply with the law. We don't see any reason why it can't work across the board."
Lipsher said he is expecting the Attorney General's Office to return the administrative rules with comments to the Health Department soon. The administrative rules, which need to be approved by the governor and go through public hearings, will give the Health Department power to issue fines against noncompliant businesses.
Business owners can be fined $100 for their first violation, $200 the next year and $500 for each additional violation annually.
So far, only one smoker has been cited and fined $25 for violating the ban. She pleaded guilty last month rather than taking it to court to test the law.
While that citation was giving by a passing police officer, the Honolulu Police Department's policy is to wait for a complainant to call, said spokeswoman Michelle Yu.
HPD asks for the complainant to wait for an officer to show up and identify the smoker or business not in compliance with the ban.
Until specific rules are in place, George Massengale of the Coalition for a Tobacco-Free Hawaii recommends that every person do his or her part by writing formal complaints of violators to the Health Department.
Pigskins owner Gomes said his customers can enjoy a smoking bar while he waits to see the law's clarifications.
"We'll cross that bridge when it comes," he said.