Lawmaker crushes smoking bill - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Lawmaker crushes smoking bill

Bill Comerford Bill Comerford
Jon Riki Karamatsu Jon Riki Karamatsu

By Tim Sakahara - bio | email 

HONOLULU  (HawaiiNewsNow) - Non-smokers can continue to breathe easy. A bill that would have allowed bars to get a permit to allow smoking was extinguished Tuesday at the State Capitol.

The smoking ban went into effect three and a half years ago. Some businesses say it's put a huge dent in their profits and many smokers and bar owners are fired up.

"I can't run a bar with no customers," said Bill Comerford, E&J Lounge Operating Co. President, which owns three bars on Oahu including the Irish Rose Saloon, Kelley O'Neil's and O'Toole's Irish Pub.

A new bill would allow certain bars and business to pay for a smoking permit that would cost $1,000 to $3,000. The money would specifically go to organ donation education.

"We're a state that is built on aloha. We're a state based on welcoming people here and what we're telling 20 to 30 percent of the world population that smokes, don't come here because you're facing a 10 hour plane ride to get off a plane where you can't smoke at the airport," said Comerford, who testified before lawmakers Tuesday. "You can't smoke at the car, you can't smoke on public transportation, can't smoke on the sidewalk can't smoke in hotel rooms, can't smoke on the beach, can't smoke at the parks and it goes on and on."

The State Department of Health, American Lung Association, American Heart Association, American Cancer Society and other health groups spoke out against the bill.

In the end Committee Chair Bob Herkes didn't even let the issue come to a vote, citing his personal experience running hotels, bars and cabaret clubs and he did not see how the smoking ban is negatively affecting business or tourism.

"We are going to defer this bill," Herkes told the committee and everyone in attendance, effectively killing the bill.

"We might have to tighten up some of the language next time around," said Rep. Jon Riki Karamatsu, who introduced the bill.

He says he will continue looking into a compromise, perhaps only allowing a handful of establishments to apply for a smoking permit.

Until then, bar owners like Bill Comerford say he'll continue to post no smoking signs but if his customers don't want to put out their cigarette he's not about to kick them to the curb. Especially since only one person has actually been cited since the law took effect in 2006. The one citation didn't go to a bar owner but to a 71 year old woman going into a bar on hotel street with a lit cigarette while an officer was walking by.

"(Police and the state) can't afford to enforce it. They don't have the means to enforce it. So they're asking to put us in an adversarial position with our customers and that's not good for business anywhere," said Comerford.

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