Leader Blues

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

TOP STORY >> Smokers to put butts out

Leader staff writers

On one side, a group is asking all Arkansans to eat out at their favorite restaurants on July 21 to show support for the statewide smoking ban, which goes into effect that day.

On the other side, a local radio station is calling for a smoke-in the day before the ban starts to protest government’s continued intrusion into the rights of business owners.

And Gerald Grummer, manager of Jacksonville’s Western Sizzlin just wants things to be fair.

The Clean Indoor Air Act, which bans smoking in most public places, was approved during a special legislative session in April. The ban includes exemptions for small hotels, nursing homes and Oaklawn Park thoroughbred racetrack and Southland Grey-hound Park in West Memphis.

Tobacco shops and home-based businesses with fewer than three employees are also exempt.

The statewide ban also exempts any bars that don’t allow anyone under the age of 21 on the premises.

Overall, Jacksonville has about 40 restaurants and about a dozen of them have smoking sections. Sherwood numbers about the same, while Cabot has about eight restaurants which allow smoking.

“As long as we are all on a level playing field, I’m okay with it,” Grum-mer said. His restaurant, on John Harden, currently has a smoking section. “But it doesn’t get much use, so I don’t think we’ll be hurt any,” he said.

The Coalition for a Tobacco Free Arkansas is planning the “Dine Out in Arkansas” event to celebrate the start of the smoking ban.

Many restaurant owners claimed the ban would take away business and the “Dine Out in Arkansas” event may allay some of those fears, according to the group’s executive director, Kathe-rine Donald. “We’re just trying to bring about additional awareness to the new indoor clean-air law,” she said.

Meanwhile, KARN radio is sponsoring a gathering Thursday, July 20, from 8:30 to 11:45 a.m. at Julie’s Restaurant in Little Rock to protest the heavy-handedness of government and the hypocrisies in the new law, according to the station’s morning host, Kevin Gordon.

“About 75 percent of all businesses are already smoke-free. This ban, with the exemptions, may raise that to 85 percent. All this work for just 10 to 15 percent. Where’s the tobacco funding for education and incentives to get businesses to go smoke-free?” Gordon asked.

Zaffino’s Italian Restaurant in Sherwood will convert to a non-smoking atmosphere on the day the law takes effect, Friday, July 21, said owner Nori Fryar. “We just got a letter today from the Health Depart-ment explaining how the law works,” she said.

“Customers will not be able to smoke inside, but can outside in our patio dining area.” Fryar explained.

Kathy Meyer, who helps Fryar manage the restaurant, said the law shouldn’t have any profound effects on business, even without the indoor smoking section. “I don’t think we’ll have any problems,” Meyer said. “Right now, we maybe have four or five tables a night of smokers who can take about 10 steps and be right on our outdoor patio.”

Fryar does plan to accommodate his employees who smoke. “We have young adults who work here that can smoke outside on their breaks,” Fryar said.

Waffle House, which is synonymous with coffee and cigarettes, has started to build benches outside its local restaurants to accommodate smokers. “Our smoking customers are just as valuable as everyone else and we don’t want to lose them,” a local spokesperson said. “But we will abide by the law,” she said.

Waffle House, like other restaurants, will have signs posted, but it doesn't plan to make a big deal if someone lights up. “We’ll very politely ask them to put it out or take it outside,” the spokesperson said.

Patty Diptroni at the Goal Post, just north of Jacksonville, said. “We’re not affected at all because you’ve got to be 21 to enter here.”

Larry Wallace with Chili’s in Jacksonville said, “I’m not allowed to comment right now, but we’re a family establishment and we’ll abide by the law as it’s written.”

Dr. Jennifer Dillaha, director for Department of Health and Human Services’ Center for Health Advance-ment, said restaurant owners should not worry. She said that in other states with similar bans, business at restaurants and bars has increased since smoking bans were imposed.

“There are a lot of non-smokers who wouldn’t ordinarily be going to those restaurants and bars because they’re too smoky,” Dillaha said. “In Arkansas there are three times as many nonsmokers as there are smokers, so I’m anticipating that there will be a similar result here.”

Associated Press writer Annie Bergman contributed to this article.