The patrons of Frankie's 8 Ball Cafe in north Laurel like a good cigarette as much as a clean break or nifty bank shot. So when Howard County's strict anti-smoking law took effect last week, the owners were in no rush to comply.
At least not until Howard police Sgt. Dave Richards paid a visit Friday. Soon the cafe had a $100 ticket, new nonsmoking signs and plans for a $50,000 expansion so it can eventually accommodate its smoking customers again.
That is the story throughout Howard County these days, a little more than a week after the deadline for complying with the county's new anti-smoking law -- one of the East Coast's strictest. After months of tough talk from restaurateurs, they have begun complying with the law in droves.
"We still don't have the money," said Mindy Herbert, who owns Frankie's 8 Ball Cafe with her husband. "We have to borrow, and we didn't want to do this. But now we don't have a choice."
The Coalition for Maryland Smoke Free Workplaces, a statewide group based in Rockville, has led the push for compliance by submitting 44 complaints since a deadline for compliance passed Sept. 8.
The law went into effect July 1, but the county gave restaurants a grace period.
Yesterday, the group issued a four-page report showing that most county restaurants are obeying the law -- many by simply going smoke-free.
Coalition Co-Chairman Al Ertel gave Howard County a "B-plus" for compliance.
"I think it's coming along very well," he said.
Howard County has more than 300 restaurants. The 220 without liquor licenses had to eliminate smoking July 1.
The remaining 90 restaurants with liquor licenses were allowed to keep smoking, but only in sealed-off, separately ventilated bar areas.
Those that have building permits to build such an area also may keep smoking until the end of the year.
County officials say that 10 restaurants have such building permits and five others have submitted letters saying they already have -- or will soon have -- such a separately ventilated bar area.
That means that only 15 Howard County restaurants will be allowed to have smoking come Jan. 1, when the last of several grace periods will expire.
But already, the anti-smoking coalition has found widespread compliance with the law, which restaurant owners criticize as confusing, bad for business and unfair to smokers.
Last week, the coalition visited 73 of the 90 restaurants that have liquor licenses and found:
Forty-eight restaurants were smoke free.
Sixteen restaurants were illegally allowing smoking in their restaurants; 28 more had banned smoking, but did not have proper nonsmoking signs.
Three restaurants, all part of chains, had submitted plans for renovations that the coalition considers inadequate to comply with the law.
So far, police have issued four citations of $100 each while following up on complaints from the coalition.
In some cases, they also have begun warning restaurant owners that repeat offenders could lose their liquor licenses. County liquor laws require that license holders obey all Howard County laws.
Richards, the Police Department's staff inspector, says defiant restaurant owners could lose their liquor licenses, but most are quick to comply when he visits.
"I have found everyone to be very positive and good to deal with," Richards said. "It's been going remarkably well as far as I'm concerned."
Adopting the ban
Two of the four restaurants he has cited no longer allow smoking.
The Black-Eyed Pea, an outlet of a national chain at the Columbia Restaurant Park on Benson Drive, eliminated smoking after police cited it.
The Bombay Peacock Grill in King's Contrivance village in Columbia has long banned smoking from its dining area and eliminated smoking earlier in its bar this summer because of the county law.
But police cited the grill's owners for not having a nonsmoking sign on the restaurant's main entrance, as the law requires. Owner Ann Chemmanoor, who said the county had not clearly explained that rule earlier, quickly put up the sign.
The other two restaurants cited, Frankie's 8 Ball Cafe and the Gringada Mexican Restaurant in Harper's Choice Village Center in Columbia, now have plans for coming into compliance with the law, the restaurants' managers say.
But neither restaurant can allow smoking until the construction is done. For Gringada, which needs only a door on its bar, that could take a few days.
For Frankie's, which needs to expand and do extensive renovation work, the smoking ban could last several weeks, said Herbert, the owner.
In the meantime, she said her customers have begun standing in doorways as comic protest against government regulation of cigarettes and alcohol: "Heads go out, take a drag. Heads go in, take a drink."
Pub Date: 9/18/96