New smoking law may shock many businesses
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By Mary Vorsino
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Mary Vorsino
It will get a lot harder to smoke in public when a statewide law that prohibits lighting up in bars and workplaces — even within 20 feet of doorways — takes effect Nov. 16.
The law, designed to protect more people from secondhand smoke, is one of the toughest in the nation and carries fines for business owners or individuals who violate the rules.
Some businesses gearing up for the changes are now instituting portions of the law to prepare employees and customers, who will no longer be able to smoke in semi-enclosed areas or at any venue where food or drinks are served.
But Mark Dawson, of human resources outsourcing agency Altres, said he worries there are still thousands of businesses that don't know about the rules.
"The majority of businesses in the Honolulu area have no clue that the change is about to occur," said Dawson, director of business development at Altres, which is helping establishments across Hawai'i comply with the law. "They all have a similar reaction when we tell them — shock."
There also is some confusion about the nuances of the law, leaving some businesses hesitant to designate or construct smoking areas that may be illegal, he said. The administrative rules to further define the measure are in draft form and will go out for public comment in the coming months.
Still, several large institutions, including a host of Waikiki hotels and Ala Moana Center, are already preparing to post hundreds of no-smoking placards. A few, such as The Queen's Medical Center, are going completely tobacco-free.
Dr. Paul Morris, a lung cancer specialist at the hospital, said the law spurred administrators to do away with six designated smoking areas on the medical center's Honolulu campus. Some of the smoking areas would be permitted under the law.
"We believe if there are patients, families, or employees who are currently smoking, this might be the right time for them to consider quitting," said Morris, who convened a task force to address the issue. The smoking areas are well-used, but Morris said he has had no negative responses to the ban.
CHANGES AT AIRPORTS
Airports statewide must also adhere to the law, and officials are drafting a strategy for educating visitors arriving from the Mainland and overseas about the ban. Under the measure, smoking is not allowed from airplane cabins to terminal curbs.
Scott Ishikawa, state Transportation Department spokesman, said a closed-in smoking room in one of the overseas departure terminals at Honolulu International Airport will be dismantled. It's still unclear whether smoking will be allowed in other open-air areas of the airport.
While reaction to the new law appears largely positive — many establishments say they welcome the ban and don't expect it to hurt their bottom lines — some contend the government should not be in the business of regulating smoking in bars, nightclubs or other adult-only hangouts.
"We're against it," said Danny Dolan, manager of O'Toole's Irish Pub on Nu'uanu Avenue. "This is an adult place. If they (nonsmokers) don't want to come, they don't have to come."
But at the Shack in Hawai'i Kai, manager Chris Mattos said when ashtrays disappear on Nov. 16, he won't be at all sad to see them go.
"We may be a bar and we've allowed smoking for years, but times have changed," Mattos said, adding customers who come to the bar and insist on smoking will be asked to go outside. "I just quit smoking myself. It will be great to be in a smoke-free environment."
Smokers, too, appear to be tentatively embracing — or at least accepting — the state law.
"Personally, it's fine with me," said John Woods, who has been smoking off and on for 16 years and was lighting up at Bishop Square on a recent weekday. Nearby, Don Rockhola puffed on a cigarette as he fiddled with his cell phone. "I don't like the new law, but I understand it," he said.
Billy Costa, who quit smoking two years ago, said he'll be glad to see less smoking in open malls and at eateries. "I used to smoke right out here," he said, pointing at a row of outdoor tables at Bishop Square, where he was eating lunch with friends. "You've got plenty of kids walking around."
A fall 2005 poll conducted for the Coalition for a Tobacco Free Hawai'i showed about 85 percent of adult voters, including smokers, supported the ban. About 93 percent believed bars and restaurants would be healthier if they were smoke-free, according to the coalition.
The law comes 20 years after the U.S. surgeon general linked secondhand smoke to health problems. Hawai'i was the 14th state to pass a comprehensive smoking ban, which includes bars and restaurants. In addition, 12 other states don't allow smoking in workplaces, according to the American Lung Association. Other states are poised to adopt similar bans in coming years.
DROP IN SMOKERS
Meanwhile, the percentage of Hawai'i resident smokers is on the decline.
About 17 percent of Hawai'i adults smoke — the fourth-lowest rate in the nation, according to the state Health Department. Utah has the lowest smoking rate, and California isn't far behind.
Julian Lipsher, state Health Department coordinator for the tobacco control section, said the law is an important step forward for the state and will benefit smokers and nonsmokers alike.
It is also a significant victory for anti-smoking groups, whose lobbyists have prodded the state Legislature for nearly two decades to gain ground on smoking bans. The law passed this year with a wide majority. Three state senators and four legislators voted against it.
Gov. Linda Lingle, a former smoker, signed the law in July.
"We think the impact of this law will be huge on a number of fronts," said Deborah Zysman, director of the Coalition for a Tobacco Free Hawai'i. "I think, honestly, it's about time."
Zysman said negative response to the law has been far more low-key than she had expected. She noted that only a few smokers and bar owners across the state have complained to her or other advocates.
"We have not had the irate smokers calling us that some of us feared," she said.
The coalition will be sending packets to businesses over the next two weeks to apprise them of the new regulations, which include posting no-smoking signs.
Enforcement of the measure could prove a daunting task, but Lipsher said the state does not plan to automatically slap fines on businesses and smokers failing to comply.
"Our purpose is not to issue as many fines as possible. We want to create light, not heat," he said. "Within a relatively short time we should see this community norm adapt successfully."
Lipsher has six employees who could respond to complaints against individuals or smokers. The police are also authorized under the law to issue fines or warnings.
But Lipsher pointed out the state's counties have already primed residents and tourists by enacting their own smoking bans over the years. None of the bans are as comprehensive as the state measure.
And Dawson, who is helping businesses to comply with the law as a public service effort, said he believes the bulk of the population will recognize the intent of the law and abide by it without the threat of a fine.
"I think the most powerful tool we have are the opinions of one another," he said.
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BUSINESS OWNERS OFFERED BRIEFINGS
Tobacco-free O'ahu will hold three briefings for business owners this week to discuss the new smoking bans. The meetings are free, and will start at 10 a.m., 1 and 3 p.m. each day. On Friday, there will also be an 8 a.m. meeting at the state Capitol.
The briefings will be held:
For more information, call the Coalition for a Tobacco Free Hawai'i at 946-6851.
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ANTI-SMOKING LAWS IN THE U.S.
California: Smoking banned in public venues and workplaces. Some counties have stricter regulations, including bans on smoking in cars when the windows are open.
Colorado: Bans smoking in bars, eateries and workplaces.
Delaware: Ban covers workplaces, including bars, restaurants and casinos.
Idaho: Banned in restaurants and sports venues.
New York: Smoking is not allowed in most businesses, and there are fines for violators. Casinos on reservations are exempt.
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|SMOKING BAN Q&A
The new state anti-smoking law is one of the toughest in the nation and designed to protect more people from health problems associated with secondhand smoke. The law takes effect Nov. 16.
Smoking is also not allowed in facilities owned by the state or counties, or enclosed or partially enclosed places open to the public, including all airports. The ban includes buses and taxis, along with sports arenas, outdoor stadiums and amphitheaters.
No smoking is allowed within 20 feet of entrances, exits, windows and ventilation intakes of structures in which smoking is banned.
Also, state correctional facilities and private and semi-private rooms may allow smoking. Smoking is also allowed in retail tobacco stores.
The state Department of Health is responsible for enforcing the law.
For more information on the law, go to the Coalition for a Tobacco Free Hawaiçi at www.tobaccofreehawaii.org. Businesses can also get an informational packet and more information on the law from Altres at www.altres.com/ohr/resource-library/smokefreelaw.php.
Reach Mary Vorsino at email@example.com.