TIA smoking havens in peril
By JEAN HELLER, Times Staff Writer
TAMPA -- It has been almost 13 years since the last passenger smoked the last legal cigarette aboard a commercial domestic flight.
The 1990 ban turned airport bars and smoking rooms into last-gasp opportunities for the tobacco-addicted to satisfy their cravings before stepping aboard their flights.
Now, at Tampa International Airport and at airports through the state, those final smoking havens are in jeopardy from one of Florida's newest constitutional amendments, this one aimed at eliminating smoking in virtually all workplaces and in all establishments serving food. The requirement that the Legislature put regulations defining the ban in place no later than July 1 has sent airport officials and concession operators scrambling to lawyers to learn exactly what they are required to do. At the moment, nobody knows anything for certain.
Even TIA's smoking rooms, walled off from the rest of the airport and ventilated separately, might have to close, said Louis Miller, executive director of the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority.
"People have to go into those rooms to clean, which makes them somebody's workplace," Miller said. 'We're looking for legal guidance, which will have to come from the Legislature. A lawyer has told us the smoking rooms are questionable."
Among a dozen smokers at the airport Friday who were asked how a total smoking ban would affect them, most accepted the possibility with equanimity. "I don't care," said Paul Scott, a salesman from Sarasota. "I'll just go outside."
And Dave Owen of Palm Harbor, who works in the kitchen at T.G.I. Friday's, said, "It'll be a good excuse to quit."
If the residence is in Florida and the owner is charging a fee to provide child care, adult care or health care there, the amendment says smoking is prohibited.
One of the biggest problems for airport officials in deciding how to comply with the amendment is the shortage of definitions. For the Tampa Airport Marriott, the prospects are mixed. The amendment clearly states that hotels and similar establishments can designate smoking rooms. But smoking in the bar off the lobby might be banned because food is served there and because it is open to the concourse.
Smoking is okay in stand-alone bars where food is only incidental to the alcoholic beverages, but what does "incidental" mean?
"Is it peanuts, popcorn and pretzels in bowls on the bar?" Miller said. "Or does it mean 60 percent alcohol and 40 percent food?"
According to Kevin Keane, general manager of HMS Host at TIA, smoking likely will go at the stand-alone bar at Taste of Tampa at Airside A because the bar is open to nearby food facilities and open to the concourse.
Another problem spot could be Bacardi's in the brand new Airside E. It has two specific and clearly delineated areas. The bar is inside a glass-enclosed room with nearly a dozen tables at which meals are served. That entire area now is designated as a smoking area.
For customers who don't want to smoke or to be near those who do, there are tables outside the glass walls. But because meals are served inside, adjacent to the bar, smoking there might have to end.
"We're waiting to get some clarification on what the law says and what it means," Keane said. "Most of our facilities will be impacted significantly. At the end of the day, depending on how the law is interpreted, the airport could be a no-smoking facility, period."
While a number of restaurant owners outside the airport environment say they fear that a smoking ban will hurt business, Owen said he doesn't see how that can happen inside an airport. "If you can't smoke in any restaurant, what's the difference? The airlines don't serve anything in the way of food on the airplanes anymore, and people have to eat."
© 2006 • All Rights Reserved • Tampa Bay Times
490 First Avenue South St. Petersburg, FL 33701 727-893-8111
From the Times
local news desks