Bill would prohibit smoking in bars
By Treena Shapiro
Advertiser Government Writer
By Treena Shapiro
A bill that would dramatically expand smoking prohibitions in Hawai'i to airports, workplaces, even bars, is headed for final legislative approval after lawmakers announced details of a compromise agreement yesterday.
If votes from earlier in the session remain consistent, state lawmakers are likely to pass a bill that would ban smoking in most enclosed and partially enclosed places of employment and public areas beginning Nov. 16.
The legislation is intended to reduce exposure to secondhand smoke. The bill was more than a decade in the making, and advocates hailed it as a victory for the health of Hawai'i's residents.
One of the bill's primary champions, Rep. Dennis Arakaki, D-30th (Moanalua, Kalihi Valley), said, "So many of our workers are forced into a situation where they have to be in smoke-filled rooms, so I think this is a major advance for the health of our people."
Not all residents, even nonsmokers, agree with the ban.
Sarah Houghtailing, a bartender and day manager at TJ's Sports Bar and Grill, believes the law would hurt business.
On Friday and Saturday nights, "it gets pretty smoky," she said.
However, she said the smoke doesn't bother her, even though she doesn't smoke herself. On the other hand, "a lot of our regulars smoke cigars and cigarettes. I think it would really bother them" if they couldn't smoke, she said.
If approved by the full House and Senate, the bill would still have to be signed into law by Gov. Linda Lingle. She has generally supported efforts to reduce tobacco, alcohol and drug use.
The law would make Hawai'i the 12th state in the nation with a comprehensive smoking ban, and would affect roughly 200,000 smokers across the state, as well as visitors to the Islands.
But most lawmakers have concentrated on the other 1.1 million residents who don't smoke.
While opponents of the smoking ban raise the issue of smokers' rights, said Rep. Kirk Caldwell, D-24th (Manoa), "This is all about protecting the rights of the nonsmokers."
Big Island Rep. Josh Green, D-6th (Kailua, Keauhou), who is an emergency room doctor, said he treats someone with a tobacco-related health problem every shift. Secondhand smoke kills more than 1,000 Hawai'i residents a year, he said.
Deborah Zysman, executive director of the Coalition for a Tobacco Free Hawai'i, said doctors can save a life at a time, but with laws like this, "Our legislators are able to save thousands of lives all at once."
However, Sen. Sam Slom, R-8th (Kahala, Hawai'i Kai), said it's a bad bill for three reasons:
"They have not firmly established the link between secondhand smoke and illness, employees that don't want to breathe secondhand smoke can work at other establishments, and the last time I checked, cigarettes were legal and we have to give some consideration to smokers' rights," he said.
Under the conference draft that will go before the House and Senate by May 2, those who smoke in banned areas could be fined up to $50, while those who own or operate the facility could be fined up to $500 if there are multiple violations.
Despite Houghtailing's concerns, lawmakers say it is easy enough for bar patrons to step outside to have a smoke.
But that may not be the case at airports, which will be smoke free from "curb to cabin," said Sen. Roz Baker, D-5th (W. Maui, S. Maui).
That could make it difficult for people trying to make a connection to another flight, since they would have to leave the airport to have a cigarette.
Outdoor places, such as beaches and parks, will not be affected. Neither will cars and residences, unless those residences double as businesses.
For example, if a home is used for a daycare facility, all occupants must step outside to smoke.
The only workplaces exempted are state correctional facilities, and some may opt to follow the law.
Counties have their own laws to curb smoking — for instance, Honolulu has banned smoking in restaurants — but a state law would ensure basic protection statewide.
Don Weisman, communications director for the American Heart Association, said the bill was a long time coming, but this year advocates came in more organized, and included healthcare organizations, unions and other interested parties in the effort to curb smoking.
"It took a long time to educate the public and build momentum," he said, but it paid off and now that the public is better informed about the dangers of smoking, people tend to be more receptive to a ban.
Caldwell, who has introduced legislation to ban smoking at public beaches and parks, said he didn't push hard for it this year to make sure the secondhand smoking bill went through, but he plans to bring it back.
"You have to take the big steps first," he said. "Next year we can come back and look at outdoors," he said.
Paired with a plan to raise the tax on each cigarette, lawmakers hope to see a reduction in smoking itself, as well as exposure to secondhand smoke. "Not only do we want people to quit, we want young people not to start," Arakaki said.
Paraphrasing an old cigarette advertisement, Arakaki said, "We've come a long way, baby."
Reach Treena Shapiro at email@example.com.