Bars serving Hawaii smokers despite ban (video)

With a cigar smoldering and the smoke wafting throughout, O’Toole’s Irish Pub doesn’t hide the fact it serves smokers.

“I’m okay with that. I’m not proud of it. I’m just okay with it. It’s an economic reality,” said Bill Comerford, President of E&J Lounge Operating Co. which runs O’Toole’s, Kelley O’Neil’s and the Irish Rose Saloon.

Three years ago the state passed the no smoking bill prohibiting smoking indoors and within 20 feet of an entrance. Yet Comerford allows smoking at all three of his bars because he says it’s up to police to enforce the law, not him.

“I can’t make an income without customers so it’s not my business to throw customers out of my bar,” said Comerford.

Comerford says he’s still in compliance with law because he’s placed the no smoking signs and stickers throughout his establishments and his employees advise the customers there is no smoking. But he also provides customers with an ash tray. So doesn’t that send a mixed message?

“It may be sending a mixed message but I have a responsibility. I’m sure if the fire department came in and someone had a cigarette they would expect to have an ashtray,” said Comerford.

“That would go further in the area of intent as to encourage people to smoke,” said Julian Lipsher, Program Coordinator for the Tobacco Prevention & Education Program with the State Department of Health.

Lipsher says the law was meant to be self-enforcing and the majority of the 400 bars on Oahu do comply.

“For the most part people understand and comply with the law and its some creative interpretation of it that will need to be resolved,” said Lipsher.

Since the law was passed only one ticket has been given to a smoker walking into a bar with a cigarette, but Lipsher expects changes soon that would give Department of Health employees the authority to ticket violators.

“When the administrative rules have been approved, and that should be shortly, there very well could be fines handed out,” said Lipsher. “And that should solve the issue.”

But it won’t snuff the debate about the smoking law.

“Clearly it’s a good law,” said Lipsher.

“It’s a bad law. it’s a really bad law,” said Comerford. “Am I willing to fight this? Within reason, I don’t intend to break the law, it’s not my intent, my intent is to operate a business and that’s all my intent is.”

Bars face a $100 fine for violating the no smoking law. The second offense is $200 and the third is $500. But it’s difficult to catch them. An officer must prove the bar employee is not advising customers about the no smoking law, which would mean they officer would have to sit and observe employees in the bar. Some may argue hanging out in a bar may not be the best use of a police officer’s time.

source: Hawaii News Now

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