Ban Smoking or Butt Out? Debate Rages On in SoFla - NBC 6 South Florida

Ban Smoking or Butt Out? Debate Rages On in SoFla

It's still legal to light up in Florida, but one local bar is keeping the air clear

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    It may be completely legal to light up in Florida, but that's not stopping some local businesses from saying "the butt stops here." Some South Florida businesses are taking an extra step to keep the air clear for their customers. (Published Wednesday, March 2, 2011)

    Smoking inside a bar may not seem like a big deal to you, but that's because Miami/Fort Lauderdale is one of the few major metropolitan areas that still allows it.

    "I like to go out and smoke," said Chase Smith while sitting at the bar at Churchill's in Miami. "It's unfortunate, but I do and I enjoy it."

    Smith recently moved back to Miami from San Francisco (where smoking is banned in bars) and she says that's one of the reasons. "Miami has a freedom that a lot of other places don't have."

    In 2003, the state of Florida banned smoking in bars that serve food. But in the last few years, states and cities across America have gone a step further and banned smoking in all bars.

    However, NBC Miami noticed a new and growing trend at a bar in Wilton Manors. Even though smoking is perfectly legal at Sidelines Sports Bar, the owner has taken the law into her own hands and banned smoking based on customer feedback.

    "That was really the only complaint people had about Sidelines," said owner Lorie Whittaker. "It was too smokey."

    "I'm a smoker and I used to come in and even I hated it," said Sidelines regular Mark Jewett. "It was very thick, burned your eyes."

    Joanne Diederich plays in a pool league at Sidelines. "It was in your hair, in your clothes," she said of the smoke. "It doesn't make for a good experience."

    All the customers NBC Miami spoke to said the new smoke-free Sidelines is a breath of fresh air. And for Whittaker, a smoker herself, it was a business decision.

    "I think what's happened is that there's more awareness of anti-smoking now," Whittaker said.

    She admits that she may have "butted" out a small percentage of her customers, but "the other 93% love it," Whittaker explained.

    The lack of a stricter smoking ban in Florida isn't because of a lack of awareness.

    You can't miss the ad campaigns. Tobacco Free Florida, the Florida Quitline, they're everywhere. And yet the push for stronger smoking legislation hasn't gotten anywhere. So the debate rages on. 

    "We're gonna come in, we're gonna smoke and you're going to be around it," said Smith. "But you have a choice to leave and go."

    "I think people who choose to smoke should have that right," said Jewett. "But I don't think you should be infecting other people."

    The counterpoint to Sidelines' non-smoking success is Tobacco Road, the oldest bar in Miami, where despite the name, smoking is not allowed because they serve food. The owner, Joe Portela, says the smoking ban has hurt his business, because smokers are going elsewhere.