Representative Meyer says, Let’s Compromise on Smoking

Over the years there have been many issues that polarized public opinion one way or the other. This year, the total smoking ban passed in 2006 has created a palpable tension between bar owners who say the law is hurting their businesses and anti-tobacco advocates who say the smoking ban has raised health standards for customers in bars and restaurants. I think it is time for the Legislature to act before bar owners and anti-tobacco advocates start an ugly battle that will leave no room for compromise. The facts are simple. Is smoking bad for one’s health? Of course it is. Is tobacco a legal substance for adults to use? You bet it is and the state government raises millions of dollars by taxing it. According to the Department of Taxation, the state has collected over $42 million in tobacco tax revenue on an annual basis.According to Bill Comerford of the Hawaii Bar Owners Association, twelve bars in Hawaii went out of business in 2007 and most are losing business since the smoking ban was implemented. Bar owner Sam Kekaula said his business dropped 50% after the no-smoking ban took effect in November 2006. The smoking ban has also had an affect on our tourism industry. The Japanese tourism market is likely to reach its lowest point in almost 20 year according to Hawaii Tourism officials. Tourists from Japan are leaving and saying they probably won’t come back. The latest satisfaction survey by DBEDT showed only 50% of Japanese visitors were satisfied with their trip to Hawaii and more than 70% said that they were not likely to revisit Hawaii. Japan is a country where the smoking rate among adult men is almost 50% and for women it is just below 15%, there is no doubt the smoking ban has played some role in the Japanese tourism decline. According to Carl Bonham, an economic professor at the University of Hawaii, tourism makes up 20 to 30% of our economy. With the declining number of visitors coming to Hawaii, we cannot afford to keep alienating our tourists from other countries or the mainland because their CULTURE or PERSONAL CHOICES do not embrace a smoke-free environment. Others have argued that the smoking ban is not working or even being enforced. To date, only one person has been cited for not complying with the smoking ban. There have been testifiers in public hearings stating that some bars do not enforce the law because they are afraid of losing business. According to Comerford, only about one in five Hawaii residents smoke, but two-thirds of bar customers are smokers. The question as to where we draw the line between the public health factor and economic sustainability must be summarized into three words: Compromise and Accommodation. This legislative session, I have introduced three bills that offer compromises to business owners and non-smokers alike. House Bill 3318 requires the Department of Health to promulgate rules governing smoking in outdoor areas of restaurants. This bill would allow restaurants to have designated outdoor smoking areas according to rules established by the Department of Health. House Bill 3320 allows people to smoke at the airport until they reach the passenger terminal gates. House Bill 3319 will allow bar and restaurant owners to become licensed to allow smoking in designated areas that cannot infiltrate into areas not designated for smoking. The licenses range from $1000 to $3000 based on type of facility, with half of the proceeds from the licensing fees going toward organ donation efforts and tobacco education. This licensing procedure will inform the public as to which bars and restaurants are smoke free and which one’s allow smoking.These bills strike a delicate balance between protecting non-smokers from secondhand smoke and allowing our bar and restaurant owners to operate profitable businesses. Hawaii is a state of tolerance and Aloha and I hope these bills will receive a fair hearing so advocates from each side can constructively debate on the issue without resorting to petty politics.

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