Florida has received more than 1,700 complaints since smoking was banned in restaurants last July, but only a small percentage of those eateries has actually been fined. Restaurant owners are still bitter over the law and question whether it’s worth the headaches.
Eddie Agramonte owns one of the 1,750 businesses the state has received complaints about since the smoking ban kicked in last July. Inspectors paid him a visit and he promised to comply, but he’s still angry about it.
“You do your best, but you know, I’m not here also as a policeman. I can’t forcibly say to someone, hey, you can’t smoke in here. You can say, please put it out and if you don’t, what am I supposed to do, throw them out of the business?” he says.
Many of the businesses that received complaints were actually stand-alone bars that aren’t covered by the law. Of the ones that were breaking the law, most were in compliance on a second visit, but 35 have been fined or are in the midst of an administrative battle over the issue.
Inspectors have gotten an earful from a few restaurants. Fortunes Steak House in Collier County told the inspector they had deep pockets and for the state to bring it on.
The Smoke Free for Health Coalition that pushed for the smoking ban says the state has been too lenient about enforcing the rules and compliance around the state is inconsistent, but the group found the smoking ban has actually been a boom to business. They say sales at restaurants are up more than seven percent since the ban took effect.
Eddie Agramonte disagrees. He says business dropped and he’s mad that he can no longer let people smoke Cuban cigars at his Cuban restaurant.
Eddie says, “I think it’s wrong that people can tell me what I can do and what I can’t do in the business that I’m paying for, and if cigarettes are so bad for you, quit selling them.”
Supporters of the smoking ban would probably agree with him on that one.
The University of Florida conducted a study of how the smoking ban has impacted Florida’s hotel, restaurant and tourism industries. The Smoke Free for Health Coalition plans to release the study results on Monday.