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[whitespace] Smoke Still Hasn't Cleared Over Year-Old Tobacco Law

Sunnyvale--Even as California marks the one-year anniversary of the smoke-free workplace law, smokers in Sunnyvale and Cupertino can be seen lighting up at such places as Beefy's Cabin and the Blue Max.

At Beefy's Cabin, smoking is allowed through the exemption that is afforded to owner-operated businesses.

But at the Blue Max, smoking is allowed for one reason and one reason only--survival.

"I'm a neighborhood bar and all the neighborhood bars, my closest competition, were allowing it," Blue Max owner Jeanette Ader said. "If I hadn't, forget it--people would have gone to the closest bar along the way."

One year after the controversial no-smoking law went into effect, some bar owners continue to allow smoking--which allows their businesses to prosper. They can do so because they receive few complaints from patrons, and local authorities don't have the resources to actively enforce the code.

"About 95 percent of the bars around are [allowing smoking]," Ader said. "Until you get cited and told you can't, you're going to have smoking. I'd rather have the police shut me down than myself."

In Cupertino, enforcement of the ban has fallen to the Santa Clara County Sheriff's Department while the Department of Public Safety handles the issue in Sunnyvale.

Deputy Sheriff Craig Sontra said bars and restaurants in Cupertino are generally following the law, but that deputies are not actively seeking enforcement of the law.

"We're not really involved in it," Sontra said. "[Deputies are not] going out looking for bars with smoking, but when they're out on normal checks and find smoking in a bar, they are either citing or warning."

Since the law went into effect, the Sheriff's Department has not received any calls about law violators and has cited between four to six businesses, Sontra said.

Enforcement of the law is difficult because the department isn't the "smoking police" and it does not have the resources to fully enforce the law, Sontra said.

In Cupertino, P.J. Mulligan's and the Britannia Arms Pub are two establishments faithfully complying with the no-smoking ban. "If anybody is in here with a cigarette, we ask them to leave," said Tracy Dobson, manager of P.J. Mulligan's. She said the bar has seen a drop in business but it hasn't been dramatic.

Smoking isn't allowed at Britannia Arms either, but business hasn't been hurt, bar manager Tom Cauge Jr. said. In fact, Cauge said, the law has benefited the business by attracting more customers. "It's smoke-free inside and that just allows everyone to come in. It's very comfortable," he said.

Cauge added that if the ban were to be repealed--as some pro-smokers' rights advocates are pushing for--he believes the return of smoke would push out his new customers and cut into business.

"I believe if we allowed it to become a smoking establishment inside again, we'd lose some of the new customers we've gained," Cauge said. "A big part of us is food, lunch and dinner. I'm a smoker myself, and I do not like smoke in my face when I'm eating. I can understand how smoking can offend people."

Initially, business dropped off when the law went into effect because other bars in competition with the Britannia Arms ignored the no-smoking law for a good six months, Cauge said. As the bars allowing smoking began getting cited, Cauge said, his regulars returned.

To help customers who smoke feel comfortable, Britannia Arms built an outdoor gazebo with heat lamps. "It was partially for the smoking customers and for those who like to sit outside," Cauge said. "In the summers, it's nice to sit out there in the shaded area."

The law, designed to protect the health of bar and restaurant employees, doesn't seem to be doing so in Sunnyvale and Cupertino.

At Britannia Arms, Blue Max and P.J. Mulligan's, the majority--if not all--of the workers are smokers themselves. "I'm a smoker and I don't mind if smoke is in here," said Shannon Perry, a bartender at P.J. Mulligan's. "I just want our customers to be happy."
Justin Berton and Michelle Ku

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Web extra to the January 7-13, 1999 issue of Metro.

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