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Hawaii getting used to strict smoking ban

Hawaii, known for its fresh ocean air and pristine beauty, has implemented one of the nation's strictest no-smoking laws.
Barbara McCain
Barbara McCain, from Portland, Ore., smokes a cigarette at the beach bar of the Sheraton Moana Surfrider, in Waikiki. Known for its fresh ocean air and pristine beauty, Hawaii has implemented one of the nation's strictest no-smoking laws.Ronen Zilberman / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Hawaii, known for its fresh ocean air and pristine beauty, has implemented one of the nation's strictest no-smoking laws.

State officials say the new law will protect people from secondhand smoke, but some fear it may deter cigarette-puffing tourists from coming to the islands, especially high-spending visitors from Japan.

The Smoke-Free Hawaii Law went into effect Nov. 16, banning smoking in all public places such as restaurants, bowling alleys, and malls, as well as airports.

Many of the islands already had county laws limiting smoking, but lighting up now in partially enclosed areas, bars and less than 20 feet from doorways and windows is illegal.

State officials say comprehensive no-smoking laws in 13 other states and hundreds of cities have helped Americans get used to similar policies.

But some worry international visitors, especially from Japan, the largest group of foreign tourists to Hawaii, won't immediately adjust or understand the new policies that could result in fines.

Chris Kiaha, a bartender at the Sheraton Moana Surfrider in Waikiki, where half a dozen people were smoking two days before the ban went into effect in the famed oceanside Banyan Courtyard, said she feels lawmakers didn't think through the new law's impact.

"What are we going to do if we lose tourism?" said Kiaha, who occasionally smokes.

Hotels, restaurants and bars have put up required "no smoking" signs, removed ash trays and are trying to educate guests about where they can light up. The state is working with Japanese travel wholesalers and agents to inform visitors, and airports are playing recorded greetings to inform travelers.

Hawaii is selling the law as a clean environment policy, not as a smoking ban, said Marsha Wienert, the state's tourism liaison. The new rules aren't needed to protect employees and customers from secondhand smoke, she said.

Yujiro Kuwabara of the Japan Travel Bureau said even in cigarette-friendly Japan, smoke-free pedestrian areas have been set up in the nation's capital. He predicts the toughest challenge will be explaining the new rules, especially when it comes to the small percentage of hotel rooms where smoking is allowed.

"There might be a little impact in the beginning, but in the long run everyone will adjust," he said. "They've basically been exposed to this concept already."

Tourist Rie Koyama, of Saitama, Japan, said she can follow the new law, but believes other smokers may avoid making the trip to Hawaii.

"Japan is a smoker's paradise," she said while smoking with friends on Waikiki Beach.

While Japan's smoking rate has declined for about 10 years, about 45 percent of Japanese men smoke, according to a 2005 survey by Japan Tobacco Inc.

In the past decade, restaurants there have begun offering no-smoking sections, and train platforms have set up designated smoking areas. Public facilities and hospitals are now smoke-free and local officials in Tokyo fine anyone who smokes in certain parts of the city.

Tom Hansen, 65, from Alberta, Canada, said he's gotten used to finding places to smoke since Canadian cities have also cut down on the amount of public places allowing smoking.

"It's been gradually coming over the years," said Hansen, who has smoked for roughly five decades. "I mean 15 years ago, you could smoke in your hospital bed and now you can't smoke on the hospital premises."

Businesses in Hawaii failing to comply with the law face fines up to $100 for the first offense, $200 for the second offense, and up to $500 for each additional violation. Individual violators of the smoking law may be fined up to $50 plus court costs.

Officials hope businesses and public pressure become a front-line for enforcement, said Julian Lipsher, a public health educator with state Health Department.

The outdoor International Marketplace in Waikiki, featuring more than 100 souvenir stands, already posted "no smoking" signs, along with many beachside bars and outdoor hotel sitting areas. Honolulu International Airport has eliminated a designated area in the airport and will now direct all smokers to a few uncovered areas away from the building.

With the ban, Hawaii hotels can only designate 20 percent of their rooms to smokers, but a few chains, including Marriott and Westin, have already eliminated smoking rooms nationwide.

"The country as a whole is heading in a more healthy direction and we're following that trend," said David Uchiyama, spokesman for Starwood Hotels & Resorts Hawaii, which operates seven Sheraton and Westin hotels in the state.

Starwood hotels have set up designated exterior areas for smokers, but will also charge cleaning fees to people who smoke in nonsmoking rooms, since workers will have to scrub out the smell and stains to follow the law's new guidelines, Uchiyama said.

More than 126 million Americans are regularly exposed to smokers' fumes and tens of thousands die each year as a result, according to a federal study released earlier this year. It cited "overwhelming scientific evidence" that secondhand smoke causes heart disease, lung cancer and other illnesses.

In Hawaii, only about 17 percent of adults smoke, the fourth-lowest rate in the nation, according to the state Health Department.

Most residents and tourists said they favor the new law, which was opposed by only three state senators and four representatives.

"I love it. I'm so happy to be able to breathe again," said tourist Debbie Liston, 40, of Seattle.