By Stephen McKinley
The experience of Irish bar and restaurant owners in California after a complete ban on smoking was introduced five years ago has been mixed but mostly negative, according to some owners in the San Francisco area.
Official city government statistics assert that after the ban, bar and restaurant business actually increased, a claim that is disputed by owners, who have said that the city included in its statistics fast food chains for the first time. Smoking has never been allowed in those establishments.
Anti-smoking campaigners in New York City have cited the California ban as an example of how smoke-free areas have increased business.
Pat White, a native of County Clare, once had nine bars in San Francisco and now has four. One bar, he said, was closed because the city’s health department successfully sued it for being a public nuisance, not because of smoking inside the bar but because so many patrons were standing outside the bar to have a cigarette.
“I am selling the rest of the bars because I am fed up trying to do business in this city,” White said. “I would say, business went down 20, 25 percent. The ban came in five years ago and then was seriously enforced two to three years ago. More people started drinking more at home, where they can still smoke.”
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One of the bar owners who led the unsuccessful fight to stop the smoking ban, Kathleen Harrington, was unavailable for comment at press time. However, she noted in a press release from 2000 that the measures used to make bar owners comply with the ban were verging on Stalinist.
“The City Attorney’s demands include: an immediate cash penalty of over $10,000; we must pull our ashtrays, matches, stop serving drinks to patrons who smoke despite our requests not to; keep a black list of the names or descriptions of customers who smoke; that the City can inspect at any time; (while at the same time the City refuses to turn over the names of the people who allegedly are making complaints); provide an exhaustive list of personal and financial data; a requirement to fire employees if they allow smoking to continue; and finally, paying $2,500 in the future each time an anonymous accusation is made.”
“The first fine,” White said, “was $100, then this would get bigger after each time the health department found smoking in the bar.”
White lost another bar because the landlord “kicked us out” of the property.
“People were complaining because when you have 20 or 30 people outside the bar having a cigarette, they make a certain amount of noise,” White said.
White tempered his comments by saying that “over time it settles down a bit. A lot of neighborhood bars ignore the ban. They get away with it because regulars don’t call the police, so until there is a complaint, they are OK.”
“To be honest, people get used to it,” White continued. “It has its good points — people get to meet more people in a way when they’re going outside for a cigarette.”