By Alejandra Serna
New York City is notorious for its trend-setting tendencies in society, fashion and even music. Now it seems that the Big Apple has gone a step further and set the seed for legislation as well. Following the city’s lead, others around the country have begun taking steps to ban smoking in restaurants, one of them being the state of Florida.
In November 2002, a health group coalition proposed the amendment in the Sunshine State and it passed with overwhelming support. Problems are now arising, however, as the technicalities of the law are called into question. Which establishments fall into the ban? Which ones don’t? Are these terms fair? These are the kind of questions that are creating a heated debate in Tallahassee and could determine the future of the restaurant industry.
The smoking ban applies to “all enclosed, indoor workplaces including restaurants but allows exceptions for stand-alone bars where food is ‘incidental’ to alcohol sales.” Such were the words of Frank Norton, an Associated Press reporter currently following the issue. The factor of “incidental” food service is the key. What is the food-limit for a restaurant to be considered a stand-alone bar and thus allow smoking? Among many others, this technicality has yet to be specified. Using food as a measuring tool might result in some unfair impositions of the law.
For instance, Tobacco Road is Miami’s oldest tavern, having celebrated its 90th anniversary this past November. Although the establishment is widely referred to as a bar, it provides full lunch and dinner menus, making it a liable target for the smoking ban’s jurisdiction. Such is the case for many other businesses that cater to the active nightlife of the state. Regardless of a local’s popularity, smokers will opt for places where they may indulge their habit. As a result, it is very likely that business could transfer from taverns and restaurants to outdoor cafes and bars. This would only penalize “bars that serve a decent amount of food,” as Buzzy Sklar, the owner of Automatic Slims, puts it.
Florida, like many other states, has declared an aggressive fight against smoking. Currently, this activity is banned in all common areas of public use – elevators, educational facilities, public buildings, etc. The recent smoking ban was passed on November 5, 2002. Nonetheless, it will not take effect until July 1, 2003, giving legislators time to work out the kinks in this issue. If some of these kinks, however, don’t include lightening their restrictions, the local diner might turn into an endangered species.