Bars brace for smoking ban
Bars and casinos throughout the Black Hills are preparing to throw out their ashtrays and enforce the state's expanded smoking ban, starting Wednesday.
But at least one Rapid City business still isn't sure how the new law will affect it.
Ifrit's Hookah Lounge in downtown Rapid City could have to surrender its alcohol license in order to allow customers to enjoy the multiple strains and flavors of shisha tobacco indoors.
Co-owner Charles Desmond said he is optimistic the business, which opened in 2008, will find a way to exist within the new smoking ban and has already contacted the state's attorney's office for clarification.
"The intent of the law isn't to close places," Desmond said. "Hopefully, we'll be able to work with the state."
Under Referred Law 12, which South Dakotans approved 64 percent to 36 percent this week, no public workplace is allowed to permit smoking indoors, with the exception of designated hotel rooms, retail tobacco shops and existing cigar bars. The latter exemptions include specific thresholds for tobacco sales that Desmond said they meet, but to allow both hookah and alcoholic beverages, they need to be classified as a cigar bar. Tobacco shops are not allowed to serve alcohol.
The cigar bar exemption was added by the state Legislature as a way to protect existing businesses, including the Deadwood Tobacco Company and Rapid City's Vino 100, and requires a humidor on premise and defines the meaning of cigar.
"There are cigar bars throughout the state. There's only one hookah lounge," Desmond said.
Pennington County State's Attorney Glenn Brenner said his office has yet to determine how it will enforce the ban in specific cases, including the hookah lounge.
"We're in the process of reviewing the law as it relates to all sorts of things," Brenner said. "We'll have a course of action in place by the 10th."
The expanded ban sets up a $25 fine for the smoker as well as the establishment, but law enforcement officials statewide have said they don't expect to spend a lot of time responding to the petty offense calls.
Rapid City Police Chief Steve Allender said his hope is that enforcement will never reach the level of requiring police department involvement.
"We'll ask the establishments who are affected by the law changes to take the lead in enforcement, and we'll follow up when necessary," Allender said.
Jennifer Stalley, director of government relations for the American Cancer Society in South Dakota, said she didn't think enforcement would be a problem. The existing smoking ban has covered all public facilities and most private workplaces since 2002.
"We have a good track record and experience with the current law. It's essentially self-enforcing," Stalley said. "We have all the confidence in the world that business owners and smokers are law-abiding citizens and will respect the law once it goes into effect."
Neighborhood bars in Rapid City, though, are bracing for a loss of business once their patrons have to go outside to smoke.
At the Blue Lantern Lounge on East St. Patrick Street, manager Patty Nelson estimated that 85 percent of her customers are smokers.
"We've already been told by them that we're going to lose them," Nelson said. "Anytime someone goes out the door, there's a chance they're just going to get in the car and leave. Now, they're going to be going out the door more."
Nelson said she will tell her bartenders that "there's absolutely no smoking in the bar," but she still has concerns about how enforcement will go. Some customers, she fears, may try to smoke in the bathrooms, where they won't be seen by employees.
"Anytime people get intoxicated, their wits aren't with them, anyway. If it's a habit after three or four beers to light up a cigarette, it's going to happen. You forget," Nelson said.
"I wish the state would come out with the repercussions if we do get caught with someone smoking in the bar."
In Deadwood, some casinos have already taken steps to accommodate customers who smoke.
Deadwood Gulch Gaming Resort is building a covered, heated smoking patio off its creek-side deck that should be open Wednesday, general manager Tracy Island said.
"It will be unique," Island said. "They can go outside; it will be heated and comfortable, and they'll be able to listen to the creek. It will be a nice little break for them."
The resort also plans to start selling electronic cigarettes, which emit a nicotine vapor instead of tobacco smoke, and have been allowed in other states with smoking bans, she said.
"We want to provide a comfortable entertainment venue for both smokers and nonsmokers," Island said. "We're trying to provide the best of both worlds. I think we'll be able to do that."
Island said she doubted enforcement would be an issue at the casino. Deadwood Gulch already bans cigar and pipe smoking, and patrons have always complied once notified by staff.
"We'll just let people know," Island said.
Source: Rapid City Journal