Article: Hawaii committee votes to reverse smoking ban

16 Feb 2012

HONOLULU- After years of lobbying lawmakers at the state Capitol, opponents of Hawaii’s
workforce smoking ban won a small victory Thursday.

By a vote of 10-1 members of the House Economic Revitalization and Business Committee
approved a measure that would allow bars and nightclubs on Oahu to offer indoor smoking.
Currently, smokers have to stand at least twenty feet away from a door or window.

“All we have done is just really educate the lawmakers into the truth,” said Kawika Crowley, cochair of the Hawaii Smokers Alliance. “This is a private property rights issue. The government does not have the authority to go in and tell a small business what you can do and what you can not do.”

The lone vote against the measure, HB2306, came from Rep. Barbara Marumoto of east Oahu. “All the health people are dead set against it, so I wanted to represent them,” she said.

Opponents say the smoking ban is costing Hawaii businesses millions of dollars each year. Bill Comerford said sales at four of his Oahu bars dropped 15 percent after the ban took effect in November of 2006. Previously, the bars had been experiencing annual growth of 15 percent. “So essentially it was a 30 percent change in our business,” said Cromerford, who also serves as a spokesman for the Hawaii Bar Owners Association.

The Coalition for a Tobacco-Free Hawaii testified against the measure, insisting any rollback of the smoking ban would be harmful to bar and nightclub workers who don’t smoke. “The reason we put this law in place in 2006 was to protect our workforce, to make sure that people could work in a safe, smoke-free environment,” said the coalition’s Deborah Zysman.
“We think all employees deserve that, not some employees get it and some don't.”

The bill does have some restrictions for bar owners and nightclubs. Indoor smoking would only be allowed at establishments with liquor licenses. Businesses would also be required to erect signs that ‘smoking is permitted’ while also providing a ‘smoke free’ area. “That could be a problem since some bars are only five hundred square feet,” said Crowley.

As it currently stands, customers who want to smoke while at bars and nightclubs are forced to stand outside while they light up. Comerford says that creates other problems. “If my clientele is out in the streets and I have neighbors, they're going to hear everything that
goes on till four o'clock in the morning because that's legal hours of operation.”

Michael Zehner, a program specialist for the Hawaii Smokers Alliance and co-chariman of the Ala Moana-Kakaako Neighborhood Board, says there have been many complaints about noise and rowdiness near bars. “We hear about noises, fights, littering - it bothers residences nearby and it's gone up a lot in recent years.”

Members of the House committee that moved the measure forward believe any relaxing of the smoking ban could be a selling point for tourists from Asia. A recent Gallup poll shows three out of every ten adults in China smokes, which translates into 320 million people.

“The more freedom we give to visitors as well as residents, I think the happier that people are and the more they feel that they can enjoy all that life has to offer,” said Rep. Tom Brower, who voted for the bill. “I think that it would make major headlines in Asia as well as the United States.”
Over a hundred bars across the state are believed to be openly violating the smoking ban by allowing customers to light up indoors. Meanwhile, enforcement on Oahu has been nearly nonexistent.

According to State Health Department, only four citations have been issued in the City
and County of Honolulu since the ban took effect more than five years ago. Honolulu police issued one citation in 2007 and three in 2011. Although the bill to relax the smoking ban passed a key committee vote in the House Thursday, a companion measure in the state Senate (SB2912) has yet to receive a hearing.

Still unknown is whether Gov. Neil Abercrombie would support any rollback. An email and phone call to the governor’s spokeswoman were not returned.

Currently twenty-five states, including Hawaii, have comprehensive smoke-free workplace laws.

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