Puffing to go poof

Published: Tuesday, January 7, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 7, 2003 at 12:12 a.m.
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Smoker's smoke for the last day inside the Beef O' Brady's family sports pub on 43rd street Monday during a lunch break. On Tuesday a smoking ban becomes part of the state constitution, and while an official ban won't take place for quite some time, some Gainesville area restuarants like Beef O' Brady's have chosen to ban smoking immediately.

DOUG FINGER/The Gainesville Sun
On the door at Beef O'Brady's Family Sports Pub on NW 43rd Street, a sign announces that smoking will be banned in the restaurant beginning today.
It's a welcome sight for some customers.
"There's some nights where people turn away because our nonsmoking section is full and there's nobody sitting in smoking," owner and general manager Danny McCann said.
But across town, the owner of another Beef O'Brady's franchise in Butler Plaza said he won't ban smoking until he's forced to by law on July 1.
"I have a lot of regular customers that are smokers that have been loyal customers of mine for a long time. So just in respect to them, I'm going to wait," owner Tim Bosko said.
Since November, restaurant owners across the state have been grappling with when to comply with a new ban on smoking in most indoor workplaces.
Amendment 6, which passed with support from an overwhelming 71 percent of voters, prohibits smoking in most enclosed workplaces - something that's already been in place in many professional offices. It's a major step, however, for the 12,000 Florida restaurants that still allow smoking on their premises.
The amendment becomes part of the state constitution today, but businesses aren't required to go smoke-free until July 1.
For some, the decision to go smoke-free before the deadline was easy, motivated by a desire to attract new customers who have avoided places where smoking is allowed or by mandates from their corporate offices.
Others, particularly those that cater to a late-night crowd, don't want to lose the smokers that make up a bulk of their business.
AMF Alley Katz Corner, a bowling alley on SW 42nd Avenue, began preparing for the switch after the Nov. 5 election, putting up memos and talking with regular bowlers. The bowling alley, one of 70,000 non-restaurant businesses affected by the amendment, officially went smoke-free on Monday.
"Some were excited because most of them don't smoke anyway. Families were overwhelmed," assistant manager Melinda Brown said. "We haven't lost any business because of it. I think we've actually gained some."
Dispute over the law Ray Carson, vice president of communications for the American Cancer Society's Florida division, said restaurants should be complying with Amendment 6 by today but noted that restaurants can't be fined until the July 1 deadline.
"As far as we're concerned, this is the day that all restaurants and businesses need to go smoke-free. If they don't, they're really in violation of law," he said.
Others disagree. "Until the Legislature maps out the parameters about it and the penalties, July 1 is the date," said Lea Crusberg, spokeswoman for the Florida Restaurant Association.
The organization opposed Amendment 6 during the election, claiming that restaurant owners should be able to make the decision to go smoke-free without government interference.
"There are a lot of questions at this point," she said.
Although Amendment 6 officially becomes law today, it remains little more than a paper tiger until the state Legislature defines its scope, including who will enforce it and setting a penalty for violating it. And creating some of those rules could be contentious.
For instance, lawmakers will have to decide whether bars that serve any type of food, from peanuts to more substantial fare, like french fries, will be exempt from the amendment, which allows smoking at stand-alone bars if they don't serve food.
Carson said the American Cancer Society favors a "common-sense approach": if a facility has a kitchen or a grill, it should be considered a restaurant, he said.
The Legislature will create penalties for violating the amendment and decide who will enforce it - possibly local law enforcement, health or labor officials or restaurant inspectors.
Carson said lawmakers will be looking to other states with similar laws in place.
"It's important to remember that we're not the first state that has banned smoking. It's not like we have to re-create the wheel here. There are a lot of places that are models for us that we can learn," he said.
Carson said no countries outside the United States have outlawed smoking, but Norway is considering a smoking ban.
Five states other than Florida - California, Delaware, Utah, Maine and Vermont, as well as New York City and Boston - prohibit smoking in the workplace. Florida is the only state to pass the measure by a statewide vote.
Most reports from those states and cities say business has remained stable or improved since the smoking ban was put in place.
In Gainesville, many businesses said they expect their sales to improve by bringing in customers who avoided eating out in restaurants that allowed smoking.
At Hooters, general manager Bruce Merton said the ban will change his clientele - bringing in younger customers and families - but not his bottom line.
He said the restaurant has already reduced its smoking section in half, "just kind of trying to wean people off of it." For now, Hooters doesn't plan to go completely smoke-free until, at latest, the July deadline.
"I'm not expecting a drop in sales at all. I'm expecting sales to go up," Merton said.
Ashley Rowland can be reached at 374-5095 or rowlana@gvillesun.com.

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