Bars Push For Smoking Ban Exemption

A group of bar owners is asking for an exemption from the state’s three-year-old workplace smoking ban.

They want state lawmakers to allow bars to pay an annual fee starting at $1,000 to allow smoking in their establishments.

Only stand-alone bars — not restaurants — would be able to apply for the exemption.

Proposals to create exemptions from the state’s workplace smoking ban have been introduced in each of the past three years since the ban took effect, but all of them died in the Legislature.

The man who co-owns O’Toole’s Irish Pub and two other bars wants legislators to allow some bars to pay to exempt themselves from the state’s no-smoking law that went into effect at restaurants and bars in November 2006.

“People in bars, they want to smoke. So if they want to have a cigar, we’d like to let them have a cigar,” bar owner Bill Comerford said.

Under the proposal, smaller bars would pay $1,000. Hostess bars and places like O’Tooles that have entertainment would pay $2,000. Strip clubs and nightclubs would pay $3,000 a year to allowmarlboro cigaretts.

“Bars who could use the extra customers and the ability to stay afloat by having smoking could pay for a permit,” Comerford said.

Anti-smoking activists don’t like the idea.

“The law the way it stands right now really protects all of our workers from what we know to be very toxic secondhand smoke,” said Deborah Zysman, executive director of Coalition for a Tobacco-Free Hawaii. “And unfortunately, what this bill would do is really erode our worker protections.

“We don’t think that a worker should really have to choose between a job and their health, and we know right now that jobs are hard to come by.”

Under bills introduced at the Legislature, the exemption money paid by the bars would go to a newly established Hawaii organ and tissue education special fund to promote organ donation.

Comerford said that at least 100 bars statewide are interested in a smoking law exemption.

“Something like this could be a boon to tourism as well,” Comerford said. “Where we start coming back from the extremism of what we’ve been doing to prevent smoking and just allow people to be people.”

State House Judiciary Chairman Jon Riki Karamatsu said he introduced the House version of the bill at the request of bar owners.

He said his legislative colleagues may be more open to exempting some bars from the smoking ban this year because so many of those establishments are suffering during the recession.


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