Sponsored by:

Comment, blog & share photos

Log in | Become a member
The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, November 8, 2001

City Council doesn't ban smoking in restaurants

By Robbie Dingeman
Advertiser City Hall Writer

The Honolulu City Council voted yesterday to kill a proposal to ban smoking in restaurants, but supporters of a ban may take the emotional issue directly to voters.

 •  How they voted

For the smoking ban:
Duke Bainum
John Henry Felix
Steve Holmes
Gary Okino

Against the smoking ban:
Romy Cachola
John DeSoto
Rene Mansho
Andy Mirikitani
Jon Yoshimura

Those who backed the smoking restrictions had hoped that a majority of the divided council would strike a compromise and send the bill back to committee. But opponents insisted on killing the measure outright, arguing that it would further hurt a tourist industry already reeling in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

In the end, five votes — those of Romy Cachola, John DeSoto, Rene Mansho, Andy Mirikitani and Jon Yoshimura — were enough to kill the bill for this year.

Those who voted to keep it alive were Duke Bainum, Steve Holmes, Gary Okino and John Henry Felix, the bill's author.

Council Chairman Yoshimura told supporters of the ban that they should consider a petition drive that would allow the matter to be decided in an election.

City Clerk Genny Wong said the City Charter provides that 10 percent of the total number of voters registered in the last regular mayoral election can propose an ordinance. That means 43,993 signatures would be required to get the issue on the ballot.

The initiative process has been used three times since 1984 in Honolulu. But all have been used on land-use decisions, which the courts have since determined is an invalid way to amend city ordinances because it conflicts with state law. There appears to be no prohibition about using the initiative process for other issues.

Clifford Chang, director of the Coalition for a Tobacco Free Hawai'i, said supporters of the ban are disappointed but will look into the prospects of an initiative drive. Chang said California and more than 320 municipalities have similar smoking bans.

Mario Sencil of Kalihi takes a drag on his cigarette as Ruben and Rheanne Gutierrez eat lunch at Jesse's Coffee Shop and Restaurant in Kalihi. The City Council voted 5-4 to kill a proposed ban on smoking in restaurants.

Bruce Asato • The Honolulu Advertiser

Julian Lipsher of the state Health Department said supporters of the ban had not earlier studied the initiative option "because we thought this council could act."

It was the third time the council has wrestled with the controversy in the last six years. A similar bill died in committee in 1997 and although the council passed a bill in 1995 to partially ban restaurant smoking, Mayor Jeremy Harris vetoed it, saying it amounted to overregulation of business.

Felix said the defeat of this year's version is discouraging. "The evidence was irrefutable," he said. "Clearly, tobacco smoke kills and it kills 1,300 of our residents every year."

Felix had hoped that Mirikitani, who introduced the 1995 measure, would vote to keep the bill alive.

Mirikitani spoke against the smoking ban at what is likely to be his last full council meeting before his scheduled sentencing in federal court for his conviction on public-corruption charges.

"It is clear to me that Hawai'i's economy and businesses are now in an unprecedented crisis situation and a downward spiral as a result of the tragedy in New York on September 11th," Mirikitani said.

Of 13 members of the public who testified on the matter, eight supported keeping the bill alive, citing health concerns. Five opposed it, saying it was the wrong time to restrict business practices and risk a deeper economic slump.

Richard Wong, a Tanaka of Tokyo restaurant employee, said the restaurant industry opposes the ban because it fears a negative economic impact. "We heavily depend on the Japanese market and allowing the customers free choice to do as they please," he said.

"Please consider this for the struggling people down in Waikiki," Wong said. "We're surviving on pennies now."

But Chang, of the anti-smoking coalition, testified that passage of the bill would cost restaurants nothing. He said that from what other U.S. cities have found, it might actually increase revenue. As for Japanese tourists shunning nonsmoking establishments, Chang pointed to Starbuck's, with more than 300 shops in Japan that ban smoking and are still thriving.

Cachola said he wanted to give the issue more time for study.

"The best thing to do and the right thing to do is to urge them to wait until there is economic recovery and then debate it," he said.

Bainum, a medical doctor, said he was frustrated by another delay. "Why waste even more time?" he said.

Felix argued that he and other supporters would be willing to compromise. He said a potential compromise could include allowing smoking in outdoor areas of restaurants and postponing the effective date of the bill to allow businesses a chance to plan for changes.

DeSoto said he believes that the issue of smoking should be left to the restaurant owners. Patrons can then decide if they want to go there, he said.

If the issue is reintroduced next year, it will be with seven of nine new council members because of term limits. Cachola and Okino are the only two council members able to seek re-election next year.

Reach Robbie Dingeman at rdingeman@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8070.