Restaurants prepare to go smoke-free in 3 weeks
Signs, brochures and table tents are on their way to Oahu restaurants this week as they prepare to go smoke-free July 1.
More than 2,200 restaurants will get information from the Coalition for a Tobacco Free Hawaii to help them with the transition.
"We would like to help make the transition to being smoke-free as painless as possible," said Clifford Chang, coalition director. "In the packet they will have what they need to implement the new law."
The $12,000 worth of materials was paid for by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a national group dedicated to improving the health and health care of Americans.
The materials include a question-and-answer brochure for restaurant owners, a six-step implementation guide, a pamphlet in both English and Japanese for restaurant patrons, table cards announcing smoke-free dining and door signs.
Although the ordinance passed by the Honolulu City Council includes no penalties for restaurant owners, customers who violate the law face up to $100 for the first offense and up to $500 for multiple offenses.
The new law prohibits smoking at indoor restaurants, while smoking in outdoor areas is permitted under strict guidelines.
For instance, outdoor seating areas must be separated from indoor seating by a solid wall or 10 feet of space. Smoking in separate lounge and bar areas attached to restaurants will be permitted until July 1, 2003, but the bars must have their own ventilation systems and be completely separate from the dining area.
"The stipulations are pretty costly," said Roy Nakamura, assistant general manager at Kobe Steak House. "If we're to continue the smoking in the lounge we would have to provide its own ventilation system and that's too costly."
Kobe's bar comprises 15 percent to 20 percent of restaurant sales, with 95 percent local clientele. "We have a lot of hotel people (and)restaurant people who come in after work," Nakamura said. "Drinking and smoking go hand in hand a lot of times."
Exempt from the new law are stand-alone bars, nightclubs and cabarets with the primary purpose of serving alcohol.
Commercials announcing the new law for Oahu restaurants will begin this month, and the state Department of Health will launch a campaign encouraging residents to go out to eat in a smoke-free environment. "We're going to be promoting to the public to show their support for restaurants going smoke-free," Chang said.
Although some restaurateurs have expressed concern that the law could hurt already struggling eateries, business owners say they'll comply and see what happens. "Whether it has a business impact or not, it is the law and we intend to abide by it," said Pat McCain, Hawaii Restaurant Association president.
Nearly 60 percent of Oahu restaurants already are smoke-free, according the association.
The association had opposed the bill, arguing businesses have suffered since a recession started in 1991 while the state continues to pass more regulations.
"There aren't a lot of people in policymaking positions that give a damn about the economy," McCain said. "As far as doing anything positive about the economy, we don't have any economic heroes. Their actions are `let's regulate everything that moves.' The restaurant industry is the hardest to make a go of and Hawaii is the hardest place in the country to make a business succeed."
Economic loss is a myth perpetuated by the tobacco industry, Chang said.
"They've put out unsubstantiated claims that restaurants would lose up to 30 percent of their business if they go smoke-free," he said. "There have been several studies that have shown when restaurants go smoke-free there is no negative impact on restaurants and tourism."
Studies comparing hotel and restaurant revenues and tourist rates before and after smoke-free restaurant ordinances show revenue increased in Utah; Los Angeles; Mesa, Ariz.; and New York, according to the coalition. Research showed no significant effect in Vermont; Boulder, Colo., and San Francisco, the study said.
But Hawaii is unlike other states and Honolulu can't be compared with other cities with smoke-free restaurants, McCain said. "California has a diverse economy; we have a tourist-based economy," he said. "California is the fifth-largest economy in the world. We're so small we don't even register."
Angelo Pietro Honolulu went smoke-free in 1997 when it moved to a new location near Ala Moana Center. "The decision was because of the health of our employees," said James McGough, vice president of operations. "That's why we're glad we went smoke-free so early."