Smoking ban: The countdown begins

Picture a typical nightclub or bar. There are people milling about, music blaring, drinks in everyone's hand and a blue cloud of cigarette smoke hanging in the air.

After Dec. 8 the smoke will be gone.

Nov. 8, Washington voters passed Initiative 901, banning smoking in all public places, including bars and restaurants.

"I think it's great," said Louis Perrault, a smoker and bar patron. "You wake up, your hair doesn't smell, your clothes don't smell. It's nice."

Perrault's feelings seem to be shared with the majority of the state. The initiative passed with 63 percent approval at the polls. The Seattle Times reported Oct. 24 that organized opposition to the ban was weak. The article claimed that supporters of 901 raised nearly $1.1 million to pass the initiative. Opponents of the smoking ban raised only $10,000.

A good thing, or not?

Some bartenders consider the smoking ban a good thing.

Shannon Maxwell and Mai Puttler, bartenders at Kai's Bistro & Lounge in the University District, support the ban. They point out that since it is already illegal to smoke in most public places, bars should be included.

Maxwell said many people complain that the law is an infringement on civil liberties. But she points out that the government already regulates when, where and how much people can drink.

Maxwell believes such laws are "for everyone's safety." She looks forward to working in an environment where smoke will no longer be an issue. She said the smoke gives her scratchy eyes and frequent colds.

"I don't think I should have to smell like smoke because bartending is what I want to do with my life right now," Maxwell said.

"It's for the workers," Puttler says.

Some bartenders disagree.

"You've made the choice [to work in a bar]," said Scott Birkland, a bartender at the Allegro Lounge on University Way.

Regardless of how the workers and customers feel about it, the law will be enforced.

It works like this

The enforcement process is supposed to work like this:

If someone in an establishment sees someone smoking, they should call the health department. The health department will then get in touch with the management about the complaint, and, depending on their reading of management's sincerity on the compliance front, maybe drop in some night to see for themselves. A violation can result in a $100 fine.

This kind of process is essentially self-policing: it puts the brunt of enforcment on the bar itself.

"If you light up, we're going to take names," said Brian Bloom, a bartender at the Dubliner in Fremont.

Bloom says the law will be observed, as long as it is in his bar.

Initiative 901 includes a clause that prohibits smoking within 25 feet of any door or airduct leading to a bar. The 25-foot rule is the most controversial part of the law.

Puttler describes the 25-foot rule as "unreasonable" and "unenforceable."

Bloom agrees.

"I'm not running out on a busy Friday night to tell someone they cannot smoke outside," he said.

Bloom views the 25-foot rule as a hindrance to his work. He says that tabs will no longer be open without credit cards, even if the customer is a regular. He says that he cannot trust people walking out of the bar to smoke a cigarette after a few drinks without paying and then come back to make their tab good.

He said the 25-foot rule is "a little outrageous," noting there is no location outside of his bar within 25 feet, which is not close to somebody's door or air duct.

Birkland just can't believe that that part of the rule can be enforced.[[In-content Ad]]