Smoking or non-smoking? The question is now a thing of the past at Florida’s restaurants. But since 1985, it was a universal greeting for diners in the state. It started 13 years ago, when the Florida Clean Indoor Air Act set the standards for designating smoking sections in public places. When first passed, it required restaurants with more than 50 seats to leave 65 percent of their tables to smokers.
Since then, adjustments to the Florida statute have gradually closed in on the number of seats designated for smokers. And in 2001, a bill reversed the standards in favor of non-smokers so that 65 percent of seating was reserved for them in restaurants of all sizes.
Fast forward to the present. Florida now has a smoking ban that pushes smoking sections out of the building, literally.
Amendment 6, which officially take effect Tuesday, prohibits smoking in enclosed workplaces, including restaurants, and is forcing businesses and smokers to comply with the law or pay.
To be sure restaurants comply with the law, Bill Parizek, spokesman of Florida’s Department of Health, said customers will be the watchdogs.
“They need to act with a complaint if there’s an incident,” Parizek said.
Currently, the system doesn’t require representatives from the health department to inspect restaurants or hotels for violations. Parizek said he isn’t sure why enforcement is based on complaints but added that health inspectors will most likely look for signs of smoking during regular inspections.
But “that’s just the way we decided to enforce it,” said Meg Shannon, acting director for the Department of Business and Profession Regulation.
“Based on the nature of a complaint, we will look for patterns of non-compliance,” Shannon said. “If the manager is complying, we’re not going to go out there. But if they aren’t, we are going to look at more (complaints).”
Once a complaint is filed with a workplace the department issues either a warning or up to $500 for a first violation. The business then has 30 days to comply.
“We are still working out the operational details of the first violation,” Shannon said.
If the second violation is within two years of the first violation the fine can be a minimum $500 and maximum $2,000 and the same for the third, Shannon said.
Bars that receive at least 10 percent of their revenue from food sales will receive the same fines if they do not comply with the law.
Smokers, too, will have to pay after a first warning with a minimum $100 or a maximum $500 with all money received from fines going toward the Children’s Medical Service fund, Parizek said.
But if a restaurant continues to ignore the law, it may end up paying more than costly fines, Shannon said.
“For a restaurant, if an operator is not following any section of Florida law we do have the option of closing them down,” Shannon said. “By not complying with this we could eventually close them down.”
Already restaurants are stirring up ideas to accommodate their smoking customers.
Beef O’ Brady’s on Fowler Avenue, is considering building an outdoor deck for smoking patrons, said general manager Rick Kinsey.
“Most businesses I spoke to have taken measures already to cooperate with this,” Kinsey said.
Kinsey worked the night the law was officially enacted. Some customers were “disgruntled” with the adjustment, Kinsey said, but cooperative.
But the smoking ban is still fairly new for businesses on the East Coast. New York and Delaware are joining the Sunshine State with the smoking ban ,and Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maine, New Jersey and Vermont are possible candidates to follow.
But the bold step came in 1995 with California, when it was the first in the nation to ban smoking in enclosed workplaces including restaurants and bars.
Three years later, the state assembly attempted to overturn the bill after it was reported as vague, and smokers ignored the law, according to CNN.com.
The inspiration behind the law comes mainly from anti-smoking organizations like the American Cancer Society to prevent second-hand smoke, said Jolean McPherson, spokeswoman for the society.
“Millions of people now will not be exposed to the threat of second-hand smoke,” McPherson said.
The amendment, which received 70 percent of voters’ support in the November election, was widely supported by the society, along with the American Lung Association, which claims second-hand smoke is known to cause cancer.
“Seventy percent is a clear message that Floridians want smoke-free workplaces,” McPherson said. “This is something the society has been working on for years. And, little by little, we have had success with the state Legislature.”
McPherson said the smoking ban should not decrease restaurant attendance in the area.
“Studies show from other states that business does not go down for a smoking ban,” McPherson said.
Kinsey said he agrees but believes Beef O’ Brady’s and other similar businesses will be effected in some way. Adding benches or outdoor dining areas are one of the steps some businesses like Beef O’ Brady’s may have to follow to keep up.
“In California and New York, it shows both pubs and taverns suffered,” Kinsey said.
“I talked to some owners of Outback, and they went non-smoking immediately (in January) and the owners found it difficult.”
On Jan. 7, the amendment became a part of the Florida Constitution, giving restaurants, hotels and bars the option to enforce the law early.
“Everyone has been aware of it for some time,” Kinsey said. “If they have to have a drink and have a smoke they might go somewhere else. But for the most part, they’re just dealing with it.”
But if smokers refuse to put out a cigarette, local law enforcement will be responsible to take action. Tampa Police Capt. Bob Guidara said if a smoker disobeys the law they can be arrested with a trespass warning. The misdemeanor could come with up to one year in jail or $1,000 fine, Guidara said.
“All enforcement officers are granted no authority against the business owner,” Guidara said. “This is absolutely not going to take a while for the public to become educated … it’s transitional and there will be an adjustment.”
Smoker Eric Christopher has no problem with the smoking ban since he voted for it.
“I think it’s only being respectful of non-smokers’ space,” Christopher said. “Even I can survive for half an hour without smoking. I mean, imagine taking your family out for a nice dinner and getting hit in the face with that smell.”