The first month of a statewide smoking ban in restaurants and bars has been pretty much a nonevent, local business operators said yesterday.
Most longtime customers who smoke have either adapted to the restrictions, which went into effect Jan. 2, or chosen to brave the cold weather before or after a meal, the operators say.
On the other hand, the operators say they haven’t seen a sizable uptick in business from nonsmokers either, although that could be weather-related as well.
“We may be turning the tables around more quickly since the ban went into place,” said Steven Hondos, the owner of the Jimmy the Greek restaurant off University Parkway. The restaurant was successful for years in striking a balance between smokers and nonsmokers.
“The people who smoke, who love our food, are still coming in. They understand this was not our decision, so I haven’t sensed any kind of backlash against us.
“We’re noticing more people coming in who didn’t before because of the smoke,” Hondos said. “But it hasn’t been that many so far.”
There hasn’t been a rash of complaints about noncompliance with the ban regarding individuals, restaurants and bars.
Anyone caught smoking in a restaurant or bar could get a $50 fine. Restaurants or bars that repeatedly fail to enforce the smoking ban could get a $250 fine.
As of Jan. 24, there have been 147 formal complaints filed regarding Triad bars and restaurants with the N.C. Tobacco Prevention and Control Branch.
Guilford County has the bulk of those complaints at 94, followed by Forsyth County with 17. There have been no complaints filed in Alleghany, Davie, Watauga and Yadkin counties.
There have been some instances of confusion with patrons using an electronic cigarette, or e-cigarette. The cigarette, which isn’t affected by the statewide smoking ban, is battery-operated and contains cartridges of nicotine. A heater converts the chemical into a vapor.
Customers still can smoke in an outdoor seating area or patio, and some restaurant and bar owners said that they are taking steps to make those areas more comfortable.
Local health departments are responsible for enforcing the law, investigating complaints and issuing the fines.
Dr. Tim Monroe, the Forsyth County health director, said his department has a policy of investigating all complaints. Inspectors will check for compliance with the no-smoking law during their quarterly inspections of restaurants. Monroe does not foresee an aggressive campaign to send inspectors out with the sole intention of catching smoking violations.
Gayle Anderson, the president and chief executive of the Winston-Salem Chamber of Commerce, said she has not received a complaint about a bar or restaurant being out of compliance with the ban.
“With the economy down, the bad weather the past few weeks, etc. it would be hard to compare business with January 2009,” Anderson said.
Anderson said she expects bars and restaurants will gain business over time based on the experience of those groups that already took the nonsmoking plunge.
“Over the past several years, a number of restaurants here have consulted with us before going non-smoking,” Anderson said.
“When we’ve checked back with them several months after they made that decision, they’ve told us it really had not affected their business after the first couple of weeks.”
John Cahoon, the co-owner of Finnegan’s Wake in the Downtown Arts District, said that the smoking ban has made his establishment “a little busier” in the short term.
“The ban hasn’t hurt us even though 20 percent to 25 percent of our business has traditionally been with smokers,” Cahoon said.
“We believe we’re getting new customers because, previously, the separation between smoking and nonsmoking wasn’t enough for some people.”
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