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[whitespace] DA is stepping up efforts against smoking in bars

Two Campbell bars rank among worst offenders

Campbell--The Santa Clara County District Attorney's office is stepping up its efforts to smoke out bars that continue to ignore a state law banning smoking in all public places.

The law, which was enacted in January 1998, is intended to protect employees from the harmful effects of secondhand smoke, according to Deputy District Attorney Christopher Arriola.

For the first two years, enforcement efforts consisted of warnings and public education. However, beginning in January of this year, the district attorney's office announced that warnings would no longer be given and that law enforcement officials were to issue citations to bar owners and patrons for violating the law.

Bars that are cited are fined $271 (including court fees) for a first-time offense, $542 for a second-time offense, and over $1,300 for a third-time offense. Bar owners also face the threat of jail time for repeated offenses.

"We figure two years of education is sufficient," Arriola said. "We gave everybody a fair chance to comply."

So far, only two bars have received citations. Both were located in Santa Clara.

A recent list compiled by the district attorney, the county public health department and the American Lung Association ranked two Campbell bars among the top ten worst offenders in the county. The list is based on citizen complaints to the secondhand smoke help line that is run by the American Lung Association.

The two Campbell bars, Courts Lounge and Lil' Otto's, have both failed inspections by undercover county health officers.

According to Arriola, Courts Lounge tied for the most complaints of any bar in the county, receiving eight complaints over a span of six months.

Furthermore, Arriola said the Bascom Avenue bar casts a smoke screen, so to speak, by posting a "lookout" who watches for unknown people approaching the bar and signals for smokers to extinguish their cigarettes. Once the newcomer has been evaluated and patrons are comfortable that he or she is not an undercover officer, Arriola said, they once again light up.

Coleen Willson, day manager of Courts Lounge denies these allegations.

"There is no smoking allowed in the bar," she said. "There hasn't been any smoking during the day here for seven months, as long as I've been here."

Willson said the bar has tables and ashtrays outside the bar to accommodate its smoking customers.

Lil' Otto's was ranked eighth on the list of the worst smoking bars. Arriola said the Hamilton Avenue bar has failed several health inspections and received many complaints.

Lil' Otto's management would not comment for this article.

A statewide survey showed that 73 percent of bar patrons approve of the anti-smoking law, Arriola said. Yet, he said, only 36 percent of stand-alone bars (bars that are not part of a restaurant) comply with the law.
Steven Raphael

For more information or to report secondhand smoke, call 408.999.0500.

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