Smoking law wasn’t such a drag after all
Almost a year has passed since the California labor law went into effect banning smoking from bars. Bar owners report, despite their original protests, it didn’t really hurt.
Cindi Davis, manager of the Fresh Ketch, said there was no slow in the restaurant’s bar business.
“It really wasn’t a problem here,” Davis said. “The locals that are smokers that come here a lot, still come here. They just go outside to smoke. We serve so much food in the bar area it’s nicer without the smoke.”
Joanne Marchesseault, manager of the Beacon Restaurant, said their bar went to a non-smoking area before the law passed.
“The workers love the clean environment and healthy breathing,” Marchesseault said. “We still have smoking outside on the deck, but that’s only in the summertime.”
Part of the reason that the ban had little effect could be attributed to the fact that no one is really enforcing it.
The responsibility was left to local health departments. Betsy Lucas Tapper, El Dorado County health educator, said at South Shore the law is only enforced by complaint – and no one is complaining.
“If I went out and did a bar survey I’m sure I would find a lot are not in compliance,” Tapper admitted. “We got complaints right away after the law passed and calls from bar owners wanting to be in compliance, but there’s just not a big push to enforce it here.
“The law wasn’t designed to protect the public. It was designed to protect the employees,” Tapper said, adding that workers can call anonymously to report violations.
According to the local county department of environmental management no citations for breaking the law have ever been issued at South Shore. Tapper said complaints are followed first with information for the bar owner on compliance it then goes to the department of environmental management, which can issue fines. Owners who allow smoking can be fined up to $100 for the first offense, $200 for the second violation within a year, and up to $500 for any subsequent violations within that year. After the third violation, employees can file a complaint with Cal-OSHA that could lead to fines of $7,000 per incident.
California banned smoking in most indoor workplaces in 1995, including the non-bar areas of restaurants. Bars and casinos were given a temporary stay until last January, now the only exempt businesses are casinos and bars on Indian reservations and owner-operated businesses with no employees.
Some bars have found legal ways to get around the ban. On the days Jerry Bocardo has no paid employees, he and co-owner Paul Janicki allow smoking at the Classic Cue, a pool hall and bar. When their one paid employee comes in on Friday at 5 p.m. smokers have to go outside.
“We have no smoking from 5 p.m. on Friday to Sunday,” Bocardo said “It has changed things a little bit. Weekends are a little less than they used to be. They still come, but they don’t stay as long as they used to. We’ve tried to give the smokers an option. We don’t want to break the law.”
Bocardo said when the law first came into effect last January they cut out smoking completely to ensure they were in compliance. They then consulted with the health department and district attorney’s office to make sure their second option wasn’t in violation of the law. Bocardo believes his business’s proximity to the Nevada state line where smoking is allowed has hurt.
“It’s not like Los Angeles or San Francisco. We’re five miles from Nevada where they can do anything they want. All they have to do is drive across the state line,” Bocardo said.
Despite posted signs clearly stating it is a no smoking facility, members of the American Legion Post 795 aren’t really practicing what they preach.
According to Dee Dulac, adjutant of the American Legion, they have no paid employees in their bar so legally they don’t have to ban smoking. When asked about the signs she said, “We put them up because it’s the law.”
Steamers’ Bar and Grill offers a ventilated smoking room above the main bar where servers and employees are not allowed to go. They also have an outdoor patio area.
“We found that people are very happy that there’s no smoking allowed down here,” Co-owner Doc Llamas said. “Even our smokers like it better this way. I think the law helped my business. Even if they repealed the law we wouldn’t allow it back in here.”
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