Hawaii - bars serving smokers despite ban - enforcement needed..

March 4, 2010 - With a cigar smoldering and the smoke wafting throughout, O'Toole's Irish Pub doesn't hide the fact it serves smokers. "I'm okay with that. I'm not proud of it. I'm just okay with it. It's an economic reality," said Bill Comerford, President of E&J Lounge Operating Co. which runs O'Toole's, Kelley O'Neil's and the Irish Rose Saloon.

Three years ago the state passed the no smoking bill prohibiting smoking indoors and within 20 feet of an entrance. Yet Comerford allows smoking at all three of his bars because he says it's up to police to enforce the law, not him. "I can't make an income without customers so it's not my business to throw customers out of my bar," said Comerford.

Comerford says he's still in compliance with law because he's placed the no smoking signs and stickers throughout his establishments and his employees advise the customers there is no smoking. But he also provides customers with an ash tray. So doesn't that send a mixed message?

VIDEO: Protest of Hawaii's Smoking Ban Smoke Free bars..

A group of bar owners (including Comerford) is asking for an exemption from the state's three-year-old workplace smoking ban. They want state lawmakers to allow bars to pay an annual fee starting at $1,000 to allow smoking in their establishments. Only stand-alone bars -- not restaurants -- would be able to apply for the exemption. Proposals to create exemptions from the state's workplace smoking ban have been introduced in each of the past three years since the ban took effect, but all of them died in the Legislature. (Read more: Bars Push For Smoking Ban Exemption, KITBV.com. 2/9/2010)

Julian Lipsher, Program Coordinator for the Tobacco Prevention & Education Program with the State Department of Health, says the law was meant to be self-enforcing and the majority of the 400 bars on Oahu do comply. "For the most part people understand and comply with the law and its some creative interpretation of it that will need to be resolved," said Lipsher.

Since the law was passed only one ticket has been given to a smoker walking into a bar with a cigarette, but Lipsher expects changes soon that would give Department of Health employees the authority to ticket violators. ""When the administrative rules have been approved, and that should be shortly, there very well could be fines handed out," said Lipsher. "And that should solve the issue." Bars face a $100 fine for violating the no smoking law. The second offense is $200 and the third is $500. But it's difficult to catch them. An officer must prove the bar employee is not advising customers about the no smoking law, which would mean they officer would have to sit and observe employees in the bar. Some may argue hanging out in a bar may not be the best use of a police officer's time.

VIDEO: Bars: Going Smoke Free - It's Working..

Reference: Bars serving Hawaii smokers despite ban by Tim Sakahara, Hawaii News Now, 3/3/2010.

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