Smokers enjoying cigarettes inside restaurants for last time
WEST PALM BEACH -- A few times a week, Gerd Hambsch strolls into O'Shea's Irish Pub around noontime and enjoys a smoke and a Guinness along with his lunch.
``It's the highlight of my day,'' Hambsch said on Monday as he enjoyed the ritual for the last time.
Florida voters decided to ban smoking in restaurants and other work places in November, and the ashtrays and smoke must be cleared from dining establishments by Tuesday.
Hambsch, who also won't be able to smoke in his office and doesn't want to light up outside in the steamy Florida heat, jokes that he'll just have to stay home.
That sentiment has many bar and restaurant owners across Florida worried that the ban might pinch their sales.
``My customers will be upset. They are tourists. They are European. They are from Latin America and they won't understand,'' said Claude Postel, the owner of the upscale restaurant Casablanca on Ocean Drive in Miami.
Sitting outside a nearby South Beach restaurant with her Papillon puppy called Angel, Nadia Albury agreed that many would be put out by the new rules.
``All of my friends are models and they'll be upset,'' she said. ``They smoke, they don't eat but my dog will like it.''
Supporters note that the ban, which was endorsed by 3.4 million people, likely will bring new business to restaurants.
Marty Larsen, volunteer chairman of the Smoke-Free for Health campaign which pushed the ballot measure, said that Tuesday ``may be the most important day in the history of public health in Florida.
``We're going to look back at this day and say, 'Why didn't we do it sooner?''' Larsen said.
The law banishes smokers from inside restaurants and bars where food sales make up at least 10 percent of the business. It makes exceptions for outdoor areas at bars and restaurants, tobacco shops, designated hotel rooms, airport smoking lounges and private clubs.
The rules are similar to others passed in New York and California.
New York City snuffed out smoking in bars and restaurants in April. But instead of lighting up inside, many smokers took the party to the street, annoying neighbors and passers-by with noise, litter and clouds of smoke. Frustrated neighbors even dumped water on noisy smokers outside bars below.
Maurice Costigan, the owner of O'Shea's in West Palm Beach, said businesses in Florida could be stuck dealing with similar problems. The Department of Business and Professional Regulation has no plans for undercover ``smoking police'' to force compliance, but authorities can issue citations and $100 fines if it comes to that.
``My battle is going to be to try to keep everyone happy and I don't have all the answers,'' Costigan said. He hopes his plan to add an outdoor beer garden in the back of the popular downtown pub will keep the smokers coming.
Peggy Rowe-Linn, an attorney in West Palm Beach, said the new law will force her to smoke before and after she visits a restaurant, but it won't stop her from frequenting her favorite lunch spot.
``I'm coming here every day, smoking or no smoking,'' Rowe-Linn said between puffs while waiting for her meal at E.R. Bradley's Saloon, a fixture on West Palm Beach's waterfront.
Others are less agreeable to the new regulations, arguing that the rules restrict their freedoms.
Merita Greenleaf, a 55-year-old retiree, was incensed as she thought about the smoking ban while she read a book and smoked inside Kate O'Brien's Irish Pub & Restaurant in downtown Orlando.
``I don't think the government has the right to tell us what we can or cannot do,'' Greenleaf said. ``There's a lot more things they can work on than cigarette smoke.''