Lighting up in restaurants may be banned

Smoke Free for Health Coalition, a state organization, is circulating a petition in an effort to introduce a bill to legislators that would ban smoking in all Florida bars and restaurants.

The petition must be signed by more than 400,000 people before it can be officially placed on the ballot of the Florida Congress.

Restaurant owner John Henningsen represents signature number 500,000 on the smoke-free workplace petition. When asked about his position on the issue, Henningsen, owner of the Goodies Eatery located at 116 E. College St., cited several reasons.

Henningsen said he felt that it should be at the restaurant or bar’s discretion to ask customers to refrain from smoking. Henningsen, however, said he believes the idea of a smoking and non-smoking section makes no sense.

“If someone is smoking and you’re all in the same room, it is going to get to you,” Henningsen said.

Henningsen said that even if the no-smoking initiatives were passed, it would not spell economic disaster for restaurant owners.

“Restaurant owners need to have the freedom to make decisions, but this is not going to hurt business,” Henningsen said.

Henningsen said it is important to remember the main reason people go out to eat in the first place. “People go out to spend time with their families and friends, not smoke. People aren’t going to choose to not go out simply because they can’t smoke in the restaurant,” Henningsen said.

Mirroring Henningsen’s comments is former president of the State Restaurant Association Michael O’Neal. Quoted from the Smoke Free for Health Web site, O’Neal pointed out the benefits of a smoke-free workplace.

“I feel strongly that it is pro-business and pro-health to eliminate smoking in workplaces, including restaurants,” O’Neal said.

However, not all Florida restaurant and bar owners welcome the changes the proposed initiatives might bring. Florida Restaurant Association Spokesperson Lea Crusberg said her organization stands in favor of restaurant owners having more control of how they allot their space for smoking and non-smoking clients.

“Currently state law delegates that restaurant owners must set aside 65 percent of their space for non-smokers and 35 percent for smokers respectively,” Crusberg said.

Crusberg went on to mention that although the coalition appears to have the necessary number of signatures to place the item on the upcoming ballot, verifying all the signatures has yet to be confirmed.

The Florida Supreme Court will hear arguments on the issue Thursday. The proposed ballot drew mixed reactions from Florida residents.

While some sympathize with the addiction smokers face, they also thought the time for change was necessary.

“These people have a habit that’s hard to break. We seem to be thinking only about the non-smokers and not the smokers,” said Desirae Royal, 21, a senior business administration student from Jacksonville. “I don’t think smoking in restaurants is something you can ban all at once. It has to be done gradually.”

However, some smokers adamantly defend their right to smoke in restaurants and bars. “People who smoke are already treated like second class citizens,” said Mike Stevenson, an accountant. “I smoke and if I can’t do that in the restaurant I’m in, I’m in the wrong restaurant,” Stevenson said.