Revise smoking ban to give options to bar owners
Bar owners are asking for relief from a ban on smoking on their premises.
STATE legislators are being asked to lift the prohibition on smoking in bars
, even though the ban is not being enforced. The ban is overly broad and needs revision, but lifting it entirely would be a step back from protecting people against secondhand smoke.
In the 2006 Legislature, Hawaii became the nation's 13th state to prohibit smoking in bars. Others include California and New York. Even tobacco-addicted France this month extended a year-old ban on smoking in public places to restaurants, bars, casinos and other commercial enterprises but allows it in outdoor cafes and indoor "hermetically sealed areas, furnished with air-extraction systems and subject to extremely rigorous health norms."
The action in France follows a smoking-ban movement in Europe that began four years ago in Ireland, where pub owners can provide open-air smoking sections. Germany will complete compliance of a smoking ban in bars by the end of this year.
The Hawaii ban includes open-air sections and nonbar property within 20 feet of entrances, exits, windows and ventilation intakes, essentially holding bar owners responsible for enforcing the law beyond their property. That part of the law should be repealed, following the Irish or French example.
The bar owners want to be entirely exempt from the 2006 smoking ban, which includes airports, public transportation facilities and vehicles and other areas available to the public such as restrooms, lobbies, reception areas, hotels, offices and banks.
Their plight is understandable; while only 20 percent of Hawaii residents are smokers, Bill Comerford of the Hawaii Bar Owners Association claims that two-thirds of bar customers smoke. The same is true in France; about 12 million of the French -- about 20 percent of the population -- smoke, according to official figures.
When Hawaii's law went into effect, opponents warned that it would discourage tourism from Japan. While Japanese tourists dropped during the past year and even fewer are expected this year, tourism officials blame rising fuel surcharges and fewer flights and hotel rooms, not the smoking ban. The movement to curtail smoking also has reached Japan, where smoking is prohibited in public places and some city streets but not yet in bars and restaurants.
Hawaii's 14-month-old law has resulted in no bars and only one person being cited by police for violation -- not because of compliance. Jolyn Tenn of the Hawaii Smokers Alliance says about 75 bars across the state allow smoking in violation of the law.
If the law is maintained, owners of bars that don't offer food service want legislators to grant them the right to allow smoking at a cost of $1,000 or $2,000 a year. Rep. Josh Green, a Big Island doctor who is chairman of the House Health Committee, instead is suggesting a tax credit to offset bar owners' financial losses.