With jeers and catcalls, many Californians kept right on puffing early Thursday as the new year and a new ban on smoking bars arrived together.
“It doesn’t make me angry that I can’t smoke. What makes me angry is that the government can dictate to a restaurant owner what they can and can’t do,” said Cathy Cawley, who rang in 1998 with a long drag on a cigarette while partying at Barney’s Beanery in West Hollywood.
The law prohibiting smoking in bars gives California the nation’s strictest no-smoking rules. But it got little respect when it went into effect at midnight.
As waitresses confiscated ashtrays, many smokers went right on smoking.
At San Francisco’s Cafe DuNord, Granger Davis, Peter Rossi and Frank Barnhardt were smoking at 1 a.m. Each had a different reason for breaking the law.
“Because I’m drunk,” Davis said.
“Because addiction doesn’t stop at midnight,” put in Rossi.
Because communism is bad, added Barnhardt.
California banned smoking in restaurants and most other indoor workplaces in 1995. Under the new law, the only exemptions are for casinos and bars on Indian reservations and owner-operated businesses with no employees.
The law is aimed at protecting bartenders and other employees from secondhand smoke, which has been linked to lung cancer, respiratory problems and other illnesses.
A judge Tuesday refused to block the ban as requested by a group of bar owners and others.
State officials have said they will depend on patrons and owners to comply. If a customer or employee complains, the state will issue a written warning. A citation will follow if the warning is ignored.
Owners could be fined up to $100 for a first offense and up to $7,000 per violation for a series of offenses. Customers who insist on smoking could also be fined, with the amount determined by local authorities.
Californians for Smokers’ Rights called for repeal of the law.
“It not only deprives smokers of the right to consume a legal product within a private establishment, but it also takes the right away from the owner of a restaurant or bar … the right to decide how he or she wants to run their business,” the organization said in a statement.
The law was welcomed by bartender Leslie Brown, who said he was fed up with smoke after 10 years in the business.
“I’m secretly thrilled,” he said. “My problem is not real smokers, but amateur smokers who smoke only when they drink, because they blow smoke in my face. Real smokers know how to smoke.”
At Los Angeles’ trendy Derby club, the band played “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” at midnight. Patron James Hoff savored an unfiltered cigarette and vowed it would be his last.
“I’m quitting tonight,” he said. “This is my last cigarette, and I’m enjoying it. Thanks to this law, I’m never going to smoke again.”
At least one place, The Bicycle Club casino in the Los Angeles suburb of Bell Gardens, claimed it was diligent. Customers got in their last puffs before midnight, then the smoke cleared.
“It’s wild. You can actually see across the room,” employee Robert Hoffman said as about 3,000 people gambled into the new year. “Basically everyone is going cold turkey. They should have handed out patches for Christmas.”