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Legislature

Barflies huff, puff over House smoke plan

By STEVE BOUSQUET
Published April 2, 2003

TALLAHASSEE - The House voted Tuesday to ban smoking in every Florida workplace, even the stand-alone bars that many voters thought would be exempt.

The House goes far beyond what the Senate wants to do in carrying out the smoke-free amendment voters approved in November. The differences between the two sides must be resolved later.

For now, smokers are fuming.

"I won't go in a bar if they pass that law," said St. Petersburg housekeeper Jodi Face as she lit another Maverick menthol and ordered a bottle of Budweiser at the Emerald Bar on Central Avenue in St. Petersburg. "I'll drink somewhere else, or at home."

Owner George Marano said a smoking ban in bars would hurt his business, which his family has run since 1950.

"A lot of people don't smoke unless they drink," Marano said. "It sort of goes together. At least 60 percent of the people who come in here smoke, and most of my tobacco sales are to customers at the bar."

It was the same story at the Tiny Tap Tavern on Morrison Avenue in Tampa.

"I think it's stupid," said bartender Rena Jensen, as she lit another cigarette. "We've been doing this all our lives. If that (law) goes through, we might as well quit our jobs. They definitely are stepping over the line."

Nearly 3.4-million voters approved Amendment 6 last fall. Lawmakers must pass a law to implement the measure by July 1.

The ballot amendment included an exemption for bars, but the House rejected that in an effort to simplify enforcement.

The Senate exempts many businesses: stand-alone bars, tobacco shops, buildings owned or leased by veterans' and fraternal organizations, even hallways connecting a bar to a package store.

"My guess is, and I'm just speculating here, that this is probably an effort to have two different versions that could be worked out in the middle," Gov. Jeb Bush said after the House vote. "That would be my hope."

The House voted 93-23 for the smoking ban (HB 1757), sponsored by Rep. Manuel Prieguez, R-Miami. Sixteen Democrats and seven Republicans voted no.

Prieguez said a complete ban on workplace smoking would be easier to enforce and would not require new state workers to police bars and restaurants. He noted that New York and California have approved sweeping smoking bans.

"This is a growing trend," Prieguez said.

Rep. Kevin Ambler, R-Tampa, who voted for the bill, described how his father died of lung cancer and his mother, a nonsmoker, developed emphysema from exposure to secondhand smoke at work. "These are the types of environments that we are trying to stop, to bring a healthier Florida," Ambler said.

There are some bar patrons out there who agree and would like to see smoking banned across the board.

"In California, (smokers) just walk outside," said John McMillen, sitting inside the Friendly Tavern on Gandy Boulevard. "People get to talk with each other. It's a great thing."

Sitting next to McMillen, bar regular Mike Hurst agreed.

"I've never smoked a cigarette in my life," he said, "so smoking and drinking don't go together, as far as I'm concerned."

Opponents said the House ducked its duty to provide an exception for a stand-alone bar.

"My problem is that we have left out the definition of a stand-alone bar," said Rep. Jack Seiler, D-Wilton Manors. "That is the one thing we have not done."

"Everybody on this floor wants every dollar it can get from tobacco," said Rep. Dwight Stansel, D-Wellborn, whose North Florida district includes tobacco farmers. "Then, we turn around and we don't want anybody in the world smoking."

The Senate version (SB 742) was approved by a committee two weeks ago and is awaiting floor debate.

Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami, is guiding the Senate legislation and wants bars to be able to provide customers with smoking areas. He favors a ban on restaurant smoking, even outdoor areas where children are often present with their parents.

- Times staff writer Brady Dennis and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

[Last modified April 2, 2003, 02:03:29]


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