Freedom to Report Real NewsFriday, July 06, 2007
Defiance – One Puff at a Time
By Malia Zimmerman
“Defiance: " Intentionally contemptuous behavior or attitude; a hostile challenge; resistance against authority; insubordination; rebellion.'
HONOLULU, HAWAII: When Hawaii’s statewide smoking ban went into effect last November and smoking became illegal in any private restaurant, bar, building, airport or public facility, both bar and restaurants owners took a big financial hit – one many haven’t recovered from.
Bar and restaurant owners interviewed by Hawaii Reporter say their business is down between 10 percent and 25 percent since the 2006 smoking ban.
That – combined with skyrocketing property taxes on commercial properties, commercial rent increases, rising sewer and water fees, booming employee costs for medical, workers comp and unemployment comp, the 12.5 percent increase to the General Tax that went into effect January 1, 2007, and the 6 cent bottle tax, and minimum wage hike – are all too much for some businesses. Thus, the sudden closures of a number of restaurants around the state in recent months including Stuart Andersons (dba The Cattle Company) in Ward; TGI Fridays in both Honolulu locations; and Jackie Chan’s in Ala Moana Center, just to name a few.
Smokers were also outraged with the ban, calling it “unreasonable, extreme and dangerous.” As a result, business is down because the “regulars” have stopped going out to bars and restaurants saying they don’t want to be forced to smoke at night on remote street corners or in a dark alleyway.
Though the ban has been in effect for 8 months, some bar and restaurant owners are still openly protesting, saying the law should be amended law as a matter of survival for their businesses.
Last Sunday, July 1, at least two bars across the state welcomed patrons who wanted to protest the new law as a part of the first annual “World Defiance Day.”
Fred Remington, spokesperson for the Hawaii Bars Association and co-owner of O’Toole’s restaurant, along with his partner Bill Comerford, hosted more than 50 people – several who openly smoked cigars and cigarettes.
In Kona, Sam Kekaula, owner of Sam’s Hideaway, did the same, welcoming around 75 people, including other bar and restaurant owners from the area.
They joined more than 1,000 bars and pubs owners and patrons throughout England and more than a dozen other parts of Europe who were protesting the new smoking ban that became law July 1, 2007, in England.
Enthusiasm Spread ‘Like a Bat Out of Hell’
Kawika Crowley, co-founder of Hawaii Smokers Alliance, who helped plan the first annual “Defiance” event with just three days notice to support the “Brits,” says this is literally one of hundreds of “battlefronts” all across the world where thousands of people are protesting.
After receiving calls from England, Denmark and the Big Island, Crowley says: “This thing took off like a bat out of hell.” Protests, where thousands of people attended, were held around the world, he says.
Remington and Comeford, who posted a “World Defiance Day” banner in front of O’Toole’s, say they made a statement without breaking the state law. As required, they posted “no smoking” signs and tell smokers that it is illegal to smoke in the bar, but Remington says the onus is on the individual. “As long as we inform customer they are breaking the law, our okoles are covered.”
Puffing on a cigar, Remington says he is willing to host what will now be an annual event because he doesn’t think the government should tell him how to run his business. “The way the law is set up, I can smoke in jail but not in my own bar. I am a veteran who fought for this country, for freedom, and this law is infringing on my right to choose. I should have the right to smoke in my own bar.”
Kekaula and Comeford agree: “If can sell cigarettes in the bar why can’t the customers and staff light up the cigarettes in the bar?” says Comeford who notes 70 percent of his staff and customer base smoke.
Kekaula says four other bar owners joined him with their customers for the World Defiance Day because they want people to be able to participate in legal activities as they choose. “I just feel like we are all grown ups and know smoking is bad, but we have been smoking for years, and I have a right to use a product that is legal,” Kekaula says.
In addition to costing them their freedom, the ban is costing these bar owners their cold cash, too.
O’Toole’s revenues are down 25 percent, Comerford estimates.
Kekaula’s small neighborhood bar went from $283 a day in revenues to just $50. “It’s the small neighborhood bars that all across the state that won’t survive. And that is our livelihood we are talking about. We pay our mortgage, our utilities with the money from our business, and we put money into the business,” Kekaula says.
In addition, a host of problems have arisen under the new law for all bar and restaurant owners including insurance issues and elevated noise because customers are forced to smoke outside.
Jolyn Tenn, a co-founder of the Hawaii Smokers Alliance, says she documented many of these bars and restaurants going out of business. On behalf of the Alliance, she interviewed 140 bar and restaurant owners last year about the ban, but says several are no longer open. A self-described local Democrat who is “not an activist by nature, she says she was inspired to get involved with the politics of the smoking ban after she met a young man who was laid off because of it and realized after talking to other employees and owners, the economic impact the ban is having.
Call to Smokers – Unite at the Voting Polls
So what to do besides hold a great American smoke out once a year in protest?
A smoker who believes his freedom of choice is violated with the smoking ban, Crowley and members of the Hawaii Smokers Alliance were a lobbying fixture at the last legislative session.
Crowley and Tenn spent every day, an average of 4 to 5 hours a day there, including holidays and weekends.
They were supported by Rep. Colleen Meyer in the House and Sen. Sam Slom in the Senate – both who voted against the smoking ban legislation in the first place – and who support a repeal or revision to the law.
But as the legislation session progressed from January through May, the campaign was relatively successful.
Although the law was not amended, Crowley started with 4 lawmakers and ended up with 36 lawmakers - nearly half of legislature – in the freedom to choose caucus.
“With 20 percent of adults being smokers in Hawaii, we have a powerful voting block. Next year, an election year, we feel if we bring 20,000 or 30,000 petitions to the table, we can make an impact,” Crowley says.
International Coverage of Ban Hits Home
Business also is down for local restaurants and bars because of the smoking ban’s impact on Hawaii tourism.
The smoking ban has made international news – and not in a positive way in places like Japan, where according to JapanGuide.com, “The smoking rate among adult men is almost 50%, while for women it is below 15%.”
Gov. Linda Lingle, who signed the smoking ban legislation into law, acknowledged after returning from a trip to Japan this past June that Japanese tourism has been impacted.
There is a 10.3 percent decrease in Japanese visitors here in May 2007 over May 2006, according to a state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism report – part of a continuing trend downward. Convention and corporate meeting business from Japan declined between 28 percent and 57 percent in the first give months of 2007 when compared with the same 5 months in 2006; and Japanese tour groups saw a 17 percent drop during this same period.
Lingle blames the Japanese media for incorrectly reporting the parameters of the ban, saying smoking is illegal throughout Hawaii. (Although the ban is broad requiring smokers be 20 feet or more away from any door or window of any restaurant, bar, office building, or public facility, smokers can still enjoy this legal activity in homes, cars and in public parks and beaches.)
Lingle says she “re-educated” Japanese government officials about the issue in hopes the message will translate to potential visitors.
But Crowley and Tenn say it will take more than "education" to fix the problems caused by the smoking ban.
With several lawmakers on their side, and an election year just months away, they hope those voters who believe in freedom afforded to all American citizens, will become the most powerful voting block that the state has ever seen.
Reach Malia Zimmerman, editor and president of Hawaii Reporter, via email at Malia@hawaiireporter.com