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Smoking ban in bars not big drag so far

Patios are being built, bartenders are breathing easier and even smokers don't seem to mind waiting to inhale.

Although a group is seeking to reverse a voter-approved ban on smoking in bars and restaurants that took effect May 1, many are taking the changes in stride.

"I'm a smoker and I like it because I have cut down a lot," said Christy Stutler, a bartender at the Bay Horse Tavern, 2802 E. Grant Road.

"Going outside is also a nice environment. It can get depressing sitting inside a bar all night It is really surprising how good just stepping outside can make you feel."

Bay Horse owner Susan Compton isn't as positive.

"When people get off of a long day of work, sometimes they want to reward themselves," Compton said. "We're getting a loss of revenue from bars because smokers stay half as long."

The Pima County Health Department has not issued any fines in connection with the statewide ballot initiative, which bans smoking in most indoor public places and within 20 feet of building entrances.

It has received 68 complaints about bars and restaurants and 237 total complaints. Typically, they involve smokers who are too close to entrances, or no-smoking signs that aren't visible from the street, as required by the new law.

Some bars are building or expanding patios where patrons can drink and smoke at the same time. Jeff's Pub, for instance, is building a $60,000 patio at its 112 S. Camino Seco location.

"I've seen a half-dozen applications so far," said Ernie Duarte, director of development services for the city. "You basically need to watch how much parking an extension will add. It is about one parking spot per 200 square feet of structure added."

Some bar patrons seem to be enjoying the change, and it shows in tips, said Larry Horvath, a bartender at the Hotel Congress.

"The first week the ban went into effect was the best week I've ever worked," Horvath said. "I'm in a band, though, and the only time it bothers me is when I have to play for an hour without a smoke."

The Shelter Cocktail Lounge, a self-proclaimed "swanky" lounge at 4155 E. Grant Road, is awaiting approval of permits to complete its outdoor patio. The bar provides an outdoor area where patrons can smoke, but can't bring their drinks, said Titus Edler, a bartender.

"It mainly slows down in here during the day, but it is also slow season," Edler said. "Other than that, business has pretty much stayed the same."

John Althoff, who has been a regular at The Shelter for the past month, since his move from Portland, Maine, said that, as a smoker, he is used to the restrictions. He said such measures have been in effect on the East Coast for the past four years.

Althoff said people there have dealt with the issue for so long that a system has developed to help keep customers' seats at the bar when they get up for a smoke.

"Basically what you do is put a coaster on top of your drink. I've even seen people use the method in New York City. I haven't seen anything like that here yet," Althoff said.

At Che's Lounge, 346 N. Fourth Ave., customer Derek Miller said that he used to smoke when he drank, but since the ban has quit completely.

Yvonne Grace-Draman, who was drinking a Guinness at The Shanty, 401 E. Ninth St., said that bars used to be rough on her respiratory system.

"I'm really thrilled because I have asthma and I can really feel the difference when I go home," Grace-Draman said. "It sounds silly, but the air feels cleaner when you walk in the bar."

Ed Abrigo, a regular at O'Malley's, 247 N. Fourth Ave., said the ban does not make sense because all it takes is common courtesy to avoid offending nonsmokers.

"Normally, if someone sits down next to you at the bar, they will ask if it is all right to light up," said Abrigo, an occasional smoker. "I mean, it is almost worse to walk into an elevator and have to deal with overpowering perfume.

"Don't get me wrong, smoking isn't good for you, but what is these days? If you go to a bar where people are smoking and don't like it, go somewhere else where there is less smoke," Abrigo said.

Sullivan's Steakhouse, 1785 E. River Road, used to have an indoor cigar bar. Now, cigars and cigarettes have been relegated to the patio.

"I have mixed feelings," said bartender Marin Friedman. "Customers should be able to smoke cigars in a cigar bar.

"I like not ingesting smoke though, and smelling like it, but I get less business, because customers get drinks on the patio and I work behind the bar," she said.

Glenn Gifford, co-chairman of Tucson-based Arizona Alcohol Service Providers Association, which formed after the law went into effect, is against the law. Gifford, who is a smoker, is retired, but his partner, Steve Ross, is a nonsmoker and manager at Daniel's Refrigeration.

From Ross' perspective, if the ban hurts bars, it will also hurt him because Daniel's Refrigeration caters to bars and restaurants. Ross is exploring ways to overturn the ban.

According to Karen Martin, Health Promotion and Education Division manager at the county Health Department, the department is in its "education phase" and has not imposed fines. The maximum fine is $5,000.

The highest fines would be reserved for establishments that are "blatantly not adhering to the law."

Source: Tucson Citizen