Leader Blues

Thursday, July 27, 2006

TOP STORY>>Smokers are adjusting to ban

IN SHORT:The Clean Air Act, which went into effect last Friday, has some puffing outside restaurants and work places.

Leader staff writer

Local smokers have reacted in different ways to the statewide smoking ban in most public places which went into effect last Friday.

Arkansas’ smoking ban, ap-proved earlier this year in a special legislative session, covers most workplaces, with some exceptions.

They keep smoking in their homes and cars and sneak a smoke outside their workplaces and in front of restaurants.

For example, they’ll pull a chair up, grab a cup of coffee and light up a smoke outside Waffle House in Jacksonville.

“Most of them take their coffee cups and smoke outside,” said relief manager Amanda Wisdom.

But Mazzio’s Pizza employees lost one faithful customer the day before the smoking ban went into effect.

“We never really had a lot of smokers, but there was one man who would come here for a cup of coffee and to smoke,” said Candy Orvis, a Mazzio’s manager. “He did tell us goodbye on Thursday.”

Criminal penalties are now in effect for the law, but civil penalties must still be approved by the state Health Board on Thursday. The earliest civil penalties could take effect is Aug. 7. Smoking is allowed in bars and veterans halls that don’t allow people under 21 years of age.

Hardriders Bar and Grill on the Hwy. 67-167 access road just north of Jacksonville opted to keep out anyone under 21.

“We had to take the exemption, but children can be in our open-air patio,” said owner Dennis Martin-dill. “They (the customers) understand we had to do this, but they’re telling me it is violating their constitutional rights.”

South of this establishment, Western Sizzlin’ on John Harden Drive, received a positive response to the smoke-free environment from customers over the weekend. When asked if business was down, general manager Charles Shirley replied, “No, we had a normal weekend.”

According to Shirley, it’s “wait-and-see” and hope people will adapt to it.

Arkansas health officials on Friday celebrated the first day of the statewide workplace smoking ban and said businesses shouldn’t expect to see “puff police” issuing fines just yet.

“None of us have as the goal to go around and have people spread eagle on the top of police cars because they were caught smoking,” Gov. Mike Huckabee said at a news conference to mark the ban. “Our goal is to protect people, not police them.”

Huckabee said he doesn’t think the law loses its effectiveness be-cause of the lack of civil penalties.

“Now people are empowered, if they’re in a position wherever they may be and someone lights up a cigarette indoors, they can say, ‘I’m sorry but you may not be aware that what you just did is against the law,’’’ Huckabee said. “Most people want to obey the law, even if they don’t like it.’’

Violators could face fines of up to $500 for a criminal violation and $1,000 for a civil violation of the new law.

The law allows smoking areas in certain businesses, including small hotels and motels, retail tobacco stores and long-term care facilities.

The law also includes an ex-emption for bars and restaurants that don’t admit people under 21.

About 40 businesses have ap-plied for certification for exemption, although state regulators are still making the rules final.
Some businesses will have to make changes if they want an exemption.

Joe Thompson, Arkansas’ chief health officer, said businesses that allow smoking will have to post signs warning of a smoking environment.

“People are going to know they’re placing their health at risk when they enter those businesses,” Thompson said. “You can kill yourself if you want to, but we believe most bars and restaurants will cater to the more than 75 percent of Arkansans who don’t smoke.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.