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Though smoking ban is imminent, fight rages on

Opponents, who continue to cite concerns on business and freedom, may even resist the ban, a researcher says.

By ALEX LEARY, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published November 10, 2002

CRYSTAL RIVER -- Before the mozzarella sticks and the iced tea arrived, Bob Lanzarone leaned back in his chair at Applebee's and put a Marlboro Light to his lips.

"Did you hear about that law that just passed?" he asked his friend, Abraham Lord, who was puffing on a Newport.

"It stinks," said Lanzarone, a 21-year-old computer salesman, who tried his first cigarette at 13. "It really cuts in on your choice to smoke."

The law Lanzarone referred to is actually an amendment to the state Constitution that voters overwhelmingly approved on Election Day. In Citrus County, 35,849 people voted "yes" and 15,363 voted "no."

Intended to protect workers from secondhand smoke, Amendment 6 calls for a ban of tobacco use in indoor workplaces not already under restrictions, primarily restaurants and bars that serve food, but also bowling alleys, pool halls, coin laundries and other businesses.

Bars that serve little food or are not attached to a restaurant are exempt, as are tobacco shops, designated smoking rooms at hotels and private homes.

While the amendment becomes part of the state Constitution on Jan. 7, the Legislature has until July 1 to come up with the civil penalties for violations and delegate an enforcement agency.

Amendment 6 is heralded by antismoking forces as a significant public health victory and another sign of the weakening grip of the tobacco industry.

"The public is fed up with all the harmful effects caused by smoking," said Frank Mattera, tobacco prevention coordinator for the Citrus County Health Department.

Advocates foresee a day when all bars are smoke-free, but until then, they say, they can live with the changes. "It's a step forward," Mattera said.

Not everyone agrees, of course.

The measure was opposed by the tobacco industry as another infringement on smokers' rights and by the Florida Restaurant Association, which views ballot initiatives as circumventing the legislative process.

"What's going to be the next thing?" asked association spokeswoman Lea Crusberg. "Lots of people are trying to blame restaurants for obesity. Is there going to be a special interest group that says, 'This particular food is not good for you, so let's take it off the menu?' "

A handful of local restaurant owners and managers suggested that the ban would hurt business, an opinion put forth by the restaurant group and the tobacco industry.

"It's definitely going to hurt," said the manager at the Crystal River Applebee's, James Beck, who estimated that 70 percent of his bar crowd smokes. "Who wants to drink at a bar all night if they can't smoke?"

Alcohol accounts for about 20 percent of sales, Beck said, and any loss would erode an already thin profit margin.

"The girls here fight to work in the smoking section," said Betty Boston, a 23-year-old server at Denny's in Crystal River. "People that smoke tip better because they sit longer."

"People are going to start eating home more," predicted Harry Paquet, who was eating an open face turkey sandwich at Crawdaddy's Bar & Grill in Old Homosassa on Thursday.

The 41-year-old boat mechanic has not smoked in 15 years but thinks existing smoking and nonsmoking sections in restaurants are adequate. Something more important than cigarettes is at stake, Paquet said. "They are taking away our freedom."

Ban's influence to be far-reaching

Christianna Conklin wiped down a table nearby, listening to the conversation. A server for seven of her 28 years, Conklin knows well the effects of secondhand smoke.

"My throat gets sore, my chest hurts," she said. "When you go home you smell, you hurt."

The smoking ban, which Conklin eagerly voted for, is designed to keep people from long-term exposure to secondhand smoke from cigarettes, pipes and cigars.

Nationwide, secondhand smoke causes 38,000 to 65,000 deaths each year, according to the American Heart Association. The smoke contains more than 4,000 chemical compounds, of which 40 are known or suspected to cause cancer.

Secondhand smoke may be most dangerous to servers and bartenders, but it has long been a source of irritation for many of their customers.

"When I go to a bar, I expect there will be smoke," said Steve Hakes, 43, of Homosassa, who drank a beer with cigarette-puffing friends at the Port Hotel's tiki bar Thursday afternoon.

"But I don't want someone smoking a big fat stogie or a cigarette and blowing it in my face when I'm trying to eat," he said. "It ruins the food."

To understand the possible economic effects of a ban, it is useful to look at California, a key antismoking battleground. A restaurant association said businesses were losing on average 30 percent of revenue after a ban in Beverly Hills was enacted in 1987.

But Stanton A. Glantz, a tobacco researcher at the University of California, San Francisco, called the survey a sham, saying independent studies have found that there is little or no effect, or even an increase in business.

In the Beverly Hills case, a look at sales tax receipts showed a drop of 6.7 percent. The California Restaurant Association says business has increased by about 3 percent since a statewide ban was enacted.

As the Florida Legislature begins to work out the details of the smoking ban, the tobacco industry and its restaurant allies may seek exemptions or push for improved ventilation systems that still allow indoor smoking, Glantz said.

"I think you are going to see a long, bloody fight," said Glantz, who was involved in the Florida effort. "You are going to hear all these arguments about freedoms and economic catastrophe. But a year afterward, things will quiet down, and people will wonder what the big deal was."

Among the various questions lawmakers will have to answer is the definition of incidental food service. Stand-alone bars are exempt from the restrictions, but only if their food service is limited.

Dallas Mattox, night manager at Grannie's diner on U.S. 19 in Crystal River, said smokers were loyal customers, and their daily presence lends to the folksy ambiance of the diner, where a hamburger and fries costs $2.79.

But Mattox said business might improve with the ban. "We have a lot of people who come in here and see there is smoking and say, 'Let's go.' "

His wife, Wilma, a server, sat at the counter with a cup of coffee. Snuffing out her cigarette, Mrs. Mattox, 57, pointed to the walls and curtains, which must be washed down each month to cut down on the yellow tint left by smoke. "We won't have to clean as much," she said.

Then she thought of another benefit. "The ban may help me quit," she said.

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