40% of bars ignore law on smoking, study finds
LOS ANGELES -- Forty percent of California's stand-alone bars are flouting an indoor smoking ban that went into effect two years ago, according to estimates by a health organization.
The state law was passed to protect the health of employees and patrons from the effects of secondhand smoke. The latest estimates on compliance come from the California Smoke-free Bar Program, an offshoot of the American Lung Association.
The program has been gathering information since a few months after the ban became effective in January 1998, said Andrea Van Hook, vice president of communications at the American Lung Association of Los Angeles County.
The estimates are based on continuing collection of data from volunteers, health agencies and police but do not represent a formal survey, Van Hook said Thursday.
The low compliance two years into the ban may be due to delayed enforcement.
"It's something that is just going to take time, much like the seat-belt law did," said Dian Kiser, director of the program.
Observance of the law is better at restaurant bars, with 90 percent found to be in compliance.
Stand-alone bars have resisted the law in part because of fears of losing business.
Rick Anderson, owner of Rick's Tropicana Bar and Grill in San Clemente, said he complied with the law only to see his business quickly plummet by almost 40 percent as customers switched to nearby bars that ignored the ban.
But business bounced back five months into the ban when San Clemente stepped up enforcement and wrote more than 50 citations in several weeks to patrons found smoking.
To shore up possible losses of liquor business after the ban, many restaurants turned bars into dining areas, boosting food sales. But owners of stand-alone bars say they can't do that.
At least two dozen of them have closed because of the smoking ban, said Tom Humber, president of the National Smoker's Alliance, a group founded in 1994. Kiser disputes the claim, saying she knows of no closings related to the law.
California's Smoke-free Workplace Act of 1994 requires bar owners to post no-smoking signs, remove all ashtrays and tell smoking patrons to put out their cigarettes or cigars.
For restaurants and most all other workplaces, the ban took effect in January 1995, but bars got an extension until January 1998.
Smokers defying the law can be fined up to $500, primarily depending on the number of violations.
For businesses violating the law, fines range from $100 to $7,000. Those who monitor the law say no one has yet been hit with the maximum fine.
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