As the clock struck midnight early this morning, smoking became banned in restaurants and most workplaces, a measure designed to discourage the habit and keep workers and customers safe from the perils of secondhand smoke.
But the Non-Smokers Protection Act has its critics who say the law has too many exemptions, is confusing, and encourages businesses to try and find a loophole.
Ruble Sanderson, who owns four honky-tonks on lower Broadway, said overall, he thinks the law is a “good thing,” but he is disappointed that it has “all of those exceptions.”
One of those exceptions allows smoking at “age-restricted venues,” most commonly known as bars.
Sanderson said that exemption defies one of the goals of the law — to protect non-smokers — since people who work at bars and those who frequent them are still subjected to secondhand smoke.
“It defies common sense to me why they would have done that … because it’s not protecting everybody in the workplace,” Sanderson said. “But anyway, we’ve got to live with it and I think in the long term, it will be a good thing.”
Sanderson will make three out of the four establishments he owns — The Stage, Legend’s Corner and Second Fiddle — smoke free. He is undecided as of Friday on whether he will allow smoking at Nashville Crossroads.
Sanderson would have preferred Gov. Phil Bredesen’s smoking ban bill. That proposal was more restrictive, essentially outlawing smoking in all workplaces.
But Bredesen’s bill was not passed and instead, a watered-down version became law today.
Nevertheless, Bredesen praised the new law.
“The most effective way to protect workers from deadly secondhand smoke is to require smoke-free workplaces,” Bredesen said in a statement. “The goal of this legislation is to protect Tennesseans who are simply trying to go to work each day and earn a paycheck.”
The law bans smoking in “all public places” within Tennessee, including restaurants and businesses with more than three employees.
Those businesses required to ban smoking most post “No Smoking” signs at every entrance to every public place.
Including being able to allow smoking in bars, the law has other exceptions that some businesses can exploit.
Jimmy Kelly’s, the legendary Nashville steakhouse, will allow smoking on its patio that connects to the main restaurant, an exemption granted under the law.
The restaurant and bar area will be non-smoking, though.
Mike Kelly, the owner of Jimmy Kelly’s, wouldn’t comment on whether he thought the law should have been passed.
But Kelly, who said a lot of his customers smoke, did not think it would hurt business.
“I mean 95 percent of our restaurant has been non-smoking,” Kelly said. “We only have one small area in the bar where you can smoke. So, no, we are not too concerned about that.”
Besides bars and patios, other places that are exempt from the ban include:
— Private homes, private residences and private motor vehicles unless used for child care or day care
— Open-air patios, porches, decks or any area enclosed by a garage-type door when all of those doors are open and tents with “removable sides or vents”
— Private clubs such as country clubs
— Up to 25 percent of hotel/motel rooms are allowed to be smoking
— Tobacco manufacturers, importers and wholesalers as well as tobacco shops
— Nursing homes and long-term care facilities
— Commercial vehicles when occupied only by the driver
— Businesses with three or fewer employees, as long as they smoke in an enclosed area not accessible to the public
While the ban is effective today, the agencies with the dual responsibility of enforcing the law, the Department of Health and the Department of Labor and Workforce Development, won’t start fining violating businesses immediately.
“We want to give them an opportunity to comply before we take more punitive measures,” said Andrea Ewin Turner, spokeswoman for the Department of Health.
The Department of Health will enforce the law in businesses that it inspects, including restaurants, hotels and motels.
Correspondingly, the Department of Labor and Workforce Development will enforce the Act in locations that it inspects, which include factories, construction sites, convenience and grocery stores, retail stores and malls.
Once state officials start instituting fines, those businesses “knowingly” violating the ban receive a written warning for the first violation, a $100 fine for a second violation within a year, and a $500 fine for a third or subsequent violation in a year.
An individual who “knowingly” smokes in a prohibited area is subject to a $50 fine.