Lighting up in taverns under fire

Although smoking in bars was banned by the state in 1998, some drinking establishments, including a handful in San Francisco, have escaped the prohibition by taking advantage of a labor code loophole that one city supervisor said he hopes to close.

The state labor code prohibits exposing employees’ to secondhand smoke. However, if a bar is owner-operated, does not have other employees and has successfully applied with the Department of Public Health to allow smoking, it is legal, according to the City Attorney’s Office.

City health department officials could not immediately provide the number of bars permitted to allow smoking in San Francisco, but spokeswoman Eileen Shields said it was only “a few.”

One of the exempted bars is Whiskey Thieves, located on Geary Street, near Hyde Street, confirmed co-owner Noelle Cahill.

“It’s a haven for people who smoke and they make their choice to come here,” Cahill said.

Alexandra Hernandez, co-chair of the San Francisco Tobacco Free Coalition, said the bars were getting an undue break from the law.

“Bars are public places and should be smoke-free just like all other businesses,” Hernandez said.

San Francisco’s bar smoking days could be numbered. Supervisor Chris Daly is expected to introduce legislation today that would prohibit smoking in all bars, regardless of whether they are owner-operated.

The bill also includes a number of other tougher restrictions on smoking, including a ban of smoking at farmers markets, in ticket lines for events or ATMs, and 20 feet from private buildings’ exits, entrances and operable windows. These restrictions are similar to those recently adopted in neighboring cities, such as Emeryville and Oakland.

The bill would require a public hearing at board committee and then avote whether to adopt the law by the full Board of Supervisors.

In the last decade, more than 30 states have passed legislation that prohibits smoking in public places, including bars and restaurants.

Californians are not the only smokers having trouble giving up the smoke-and-drink combo.

In Minnesota, a recent statewide ban on smoking in restaurants and bars has proprietors and patrons creatively exploiting a loophole in that law, which provides an exception for performers in theatrical productions. Bars are reportedly getting around the ban by printing posters advertising performances and telling patrons to show up in costume.

jsabatini@examiner.com

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