A proposal to prohibit smoking in restaurants to protect the health of employees is poised for a final vote by the Kaua’i County Council next Thursday.
Following more debate and testimony in favor of and against the bill at its meeting at the historic County Building yesterday, the council’s finance/intergovernmental relations committee voted to move the measure forward.
Jimmy Tokioka, chairman of the committee and the councilman who introduced the initial bill, attended the morning meeting, but he didn’t vote because he had to fly to O’ahu for an Easter Seals’ meeting in the afternoon.
The council is expected to vote on a bill that bans smoking in all restaurants, outdoor and indoor but includes one exemption. It allows smoking at combination bar and restaurants during times when only the bar is open and when signs are posted.
Another exemption might be posed to the full council next Thursday. Councilman Daryl Kaneshiro, responding to concerns from the visitor industry, might introduce an exemption that would allow smoking at restaurants that have outdoor patios.
They would be parts of the restaurants that would still be part of the premises but would be located away from the main dining area, Kaneshiro said.
Action on the bill was not taken up any sooner because the council wanted to review recent testimony by residents who claimed the bill, if approved, could erode civil rights.
In deciding to move the measure forward, councilman Gary Hooser said smoking is “an unhealthy activity” and that there “is no question” that banning smoking in restaurants will provide “improved health benefits for a wide variety of people.”
Hooser further said there exists no conclusive evidence that the ban will hurt restaurants financially. He said restaurant owners have told him that they “turn tables around quicker” because “people aren’t hanging out at the table smoking.”
Hooser also acknowledged civil right concerns related to smoking, adding that he also didn’t like having “government telling me what to do.”
However, laws are passed for the greater good of society, Hooser said, noting that a “precedent had been set” through approval of legislation related to child protection and health insurance requirements.
“OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) might overdue its regulations sometimes, but overall, it is a good thing for workers in this country,” Hooser said.
Hooser also said many restaurant employees, including older ones, don’t have the option of quitting restaurants that allow smoking, and finding jobs at non-smoking restaurants.
Working in a restaurant that allows smoking might be fine for a young woman waitress, but being in that type of atmosphere is not “healthy for her,” Hooser said. Neither would it be for her and her child if she were pregnant, Hooser said.
Asing said he would express his viewpoints on civil rights issues tied to smoking, or “personal rights,” when the full council votes next week.
Asing said the power of government in this issue mystifies him.
Taking the viewpoint of a restaurant owner faced with the adoption of the bill, Asing noted “‘This is my restaurant. This is my business. Why can’t I have the choice ( to allow or not to allow smoking at his establishment). Why are you infringing on my rights?”‘
He said restaurant owners should have the power to decide whether to have smoking or no smoking at their businesses.
Critics of the bill said it was “un-American” and that it deprived the option of choice for restaurant owners and their patrons.
Helen Torres, owner of the Pau Hana Bar and Grill in Kapa’a, said restaurant owners “should be able to choose.” “Yes, this bill would be detrimental to my business, but in a way it is really not about business. It is about choice,” Torres said.
Responding to one critic who said the bill version was too stringent, Tokioka acknowledged the bill will affect restaurants, including two he has partnership in. But he said he is pushing the bill forward “for the health of the employees.”
A medical doctor from Arizona visiting Kaua’i said smoking is “extremely dangerous” and that he has helped hundreds of people kick the habit of smoking.
The doctor said, however, that a recent dining experience at the open-air restaurant at Joe’s On the Green in Po’ipu was pleasant even with smokers around.
He recommended open-air restaurants be exempted from any law passed by the council.
A waiter said the bill would do no good and that he is not bothered by second hand smoke generated by restaurant patrons.
Supporting the bill, Wendy Akita said smoking in public places like restaurants has to be stopped.
She said her mother died at age 60, and a close friend died at age 36, both smokers and victims of lung cancer.
“If people smoke, they can smoke where they won’t affect the rest of us,” Akita said.
Clifford Chang, representing the Coalition for Tobacco Free Hawaii, said the harmful effects of cigarette smoking have been proven and that he opposed the exemption for combination restaurant and bar establishments proposed in the bill.
The exemption “is coming up across the country and is actually being promoted by the tobacco industry,” Chang said.
“It is being promoted, because they know it is not enforceable,” Chang said. “Restaurants that go back and forth simply allow smoking. Over time they simply allow people to smoke.”
Staff writer Lester Chang can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 225) and mailto:mailto:email@example.com