Restaurant smoking ban gains support
By Robbie Dingeman
Advertiser City Hall Writer
The Honolulu City Council's latest attempt to ban smoking in Honolulu restaurants gained support yesterday at a committee meeting, but opponents are fanning fears that the visitor industry's economic beating from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks would worsen under smoke-free rules.
Councilman John Henry Felix in August introduced the proposed ban, which would exempt bars, nightclubs and parts of restaurants separate from the dining areas.
Felix, who represents the East Honolulu-Waimanalo-Kailua area, said he is pushing for the restrictions again because of the clear link between cigarette smoke and lung cancer and the impact of second-hand smoke on restaurant workers and children.
The council has tried to do this before, but two new members and the other seven looking at the end of their terms prompted Felix to make another bid for the smoking ban. It appears the majority of council members now support the intent of the bill, but it's not clear how firm those votes are.
The City Council passed a bill that partially banned restaurant smoking in 1995. It was vetoed by Mayor Jeremy Harris, who said it would amount to over-regulation of individual choice.
Yesterday, 16 people testified on the measure, with nine in support and seven against. Speaking for the measure, Julian Lipsher of the state Health Department said that many studies document the harmful effects of breathing second-hand cigarette smoke.
He said in more than 300 municipalities and in the state of California, restaurant smoking bans have not negatively impacted the restaurant industry. "And in fact, in most case, (the industry) has flourished," Lipsher said.
Representatives of various restaurants and hotels said they feared that businesses that rely heavily on visitors from Asia will see their already slumping business dip farther.
"If you're living in Hawai'i, you're in the tourism business," said Pat McCain, president of the Hawai'i Restaurant Association. "This measure is ill-timed."
But longtime smoking opponent Councilman Steve Holmes railed against the promotion of tobacco.
"It's time we started thinking of them as a terrorist organization. It's time that we started having some moral outrage of the impact on our economy of the deaths caused by tobacco-related disease," Holmes said.
The five-member committee moved the measure forward for public hearing on Oct. 17
Council Chairman Jon Yoshimura has said the city should stay out of what is a business decision for restaurants. He said restaurants set their own policies, including establishing no-smoking areas.
The Council also is pushing forward a measure designed to reduce the number of false alarms that Honolulu police have to respond to by regulating the alarm companies. The measure is also aimed at forcing those with more than three false alarms in a year to pay a "service charge."
But the proposal is raising questions.
Councilman Gary Okino said proponents of the bill "seem to be blaming the home owners."
Okino said he was especially disturbed by language in the bill that "the police department shall be under no duty to respond" after a third false alarm.
"It's very onerous on the owner of alarm systems when I think you're trying to encourage people to put in alarm systems because it will help police discourage burglaries," he said.
Reach Robbie Dingeman at email@example.com or 525-8070.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story erroneously referred to Julian Lipsher of the state Health Department as a she.