Smoking mandate


Published: Tuesday, July 1, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, June 30, 2003 at 9:34 p.m.
Today marks the official implementation date of the voter mandate prohibiting smoking in enclosed workplaces.
As directed by 3.4 million Florida voters last year - 70.6 percent of those who turned out - there no longer will be smoking sections in restaurants as of today.
Some bars, especially those within restaurants, also will be smoke-free under an implementing law approved by legislators as they wrapped up Legislative Special Session A in May.
This doesn't mean all lawmakers are happy with the outcome, which provides some exemptions. For example, smoking will be allowed in stand-alone bars where food sales are less than 10 percent of the bar's income.
Also exempted are outdoor patios at restaurants, some membership organizations and designated smoking rooms at airports.
It's a compromise that supporters of last November's smoking ban amendment claim dilutes voters' intentions.
The voter-approved referendum did not include private homes (unless providing commercial child care), retail tobacco shops, designated smoking rooms at motels and hotels or stand-alone bars.
The Legislature threw the 10 percent food sales requirement in for good or bad measure - depending on individual preferences.
Some lawmakers are already predicting the exemptions, particularly those involving stand-alone bars, will have some unpleasant baggage.
This is because the Florida Senate, while hurrying to complete work on the bill, accepted a House demand requiring that stand-alone bars be audited yearly, ensuring food sales do not exceed 10 percent.
Some state officials warned such audits could cost bar owners as much as $2,500 annually, potentially making it unprofitable to allow smoking in such establishments.
Florida is not alone in restricting public smoking. In California, for example, it is illegal to smoke inside any and all government buildings, restaurants or bars. The states of New York and Connecticut adopted similar laws this year as well.
In some ways, it's not difficult to empathize with smokers. For years, they have been deluged with warnings about the possible unhealthy side affects of smoking. Harsh predictions of cancer, emphysema, bronchitis, heart problems and other ailments are often hurled at smokers.
And those who smoke often have family and friends who plead with them to stop smoking. Most were banned from smoking in their workplaces years ago.
Meanwhile, governments often see smokers as fair game when it comes to finding additional revenue sources.
A multitude of taxes have been levied on cigarettes, with one universal justification - that hiking the cost of cigarettes may encourage people to stop, or not start, smoking.
Most smokers have resigned themselves to politely putting up with the hassles and criticism associated with smoking.
They often seek understanding and comfort among other smokers, and can be found outside their places of business at various times of day - taking a smoke break.
Despite any empathy we may feel for smokers, this habit is no less dangerous to anyone who inhales smoke - first- or second-hand.
Someday, we believe people will reflect positively on the smoking ban referendum of 2002.
No doubt, this measure will be further tweaked in months and years to come until the public and businesses come to a meeting of the minds on when and where smokers can light up.

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