Whether you’re a smoker or a non-smoker, you’ve probably heard there’s a voluntary smoking ban clearing the haze in local bars. Officially, Emerald City banned indoor smoking on July 6 and Seville Quarter restricted smoking to outdoor areas on Aug. 1. Since June, the two Downtown Pensacola hotspots have been publicizing the upcoming smoking ban via “smoke-free” signs in the establishment and posts on social media.
The smoking crowd isn’t being completely blown off though. The beautiful courtyard at Seville and covered patio outside Emerald City are open to smokers. While Seville has also banned indoor vaping, Emerald City allows customers to use e-cigarettes inside the bar since they do not produce a harsh, nicotine smell.
Although the indoor smoking ban is voluntary right now, to better understand the rules and regulations associated with smoking inside Florida bars it helps to know a little background on the Florida Clean Indoor Air Act (FCIAA). The act is part of the 1985 Florida Public Health Statutes enacted by the Florida Legislature with the purpose of protecting people from the health hazards of secondhand smoke. In November of 2002, 71 percent of Florida’s citizens voted for a constitutional amendment to prohibit smoking in all enclosed indoor workplaces. A year later in July, the smoke-free law went into effect.
While it is true the amendment to the FCIAA in 2003 did not prohibit smoking in stand-alone bars, this year many local stand-alone bars have decided to restrict smoking to outside areas.
According to Florida statutes, a stand-alone bar is any licensed establishment devoted primarily to serving alcoholic beverages. A stand-alone bar cannot be within an enclosed indoor workplace or business in which the sale of food exceeds 10 percent of the gross revenue. In other words, smoking is allowed in a stand-alone bar even though it is an enclosed workplace because, beyond bar snacks, food is not prepared and served within the bar.
But, why ban indoor smoking at the bars if Florida law doesn’t require it?
Well, there are a few reasons bars have decided to voluntarily ban indoor smoking, some of which include promoting better health and business.
First and foremost, many bars are concerned with making air healthier for their patrons. Not only do customers and members of the staff breathe better in the absence of tobacco smoke, but they also go home without the smell of smoke still clinging to their hair and clothes.
“We lost a lot of people on our Friday night bar bingo because of the smoke,” said Ted McCrary, manager at Emerald City. “There would literally be a haze hanging above the crowd like it was a poker tournament. Since we banned smoking, my bartender reports that we’ve gotten a significant number of people back for bar bingo. Some who have been gone as long as a year have resurfaced.”
Tobacco smoke can cause physical problems for patrons with respiratory issues, such as asthma, and many consider the scent to be distasteful.
“As a non-smoking family we felt it was time to go for what was healthier by limiting secondhand smoke,” said Buck Mitchell, marketing manager at Seville. “We wanted Seville’s clubs and air to smell better, so people feel better about coming to see us. Without alienating smokers, we wanted to bring back customers that don’t smoke.”
In addition, there’s the goal of building profit for the bar with food sales.
“There are parameters food-wise when it comes to serving food and allowing smoking in bars,” said Buck. “Bars are allowed lower than 10 percent in food sale profits. When we go smoke-free, we can increase food sale revenue for Seville’s restaurants and clubs.”
For sanitary reasons, a bar that allows indoor smoking cannot serve any food other than what is classified as bar snacks. So, if a bar wanted to serve meals and gain additional revenue from food sales, then the establishment would have to get rid of indoor smoking.
“There’s also the matter of serving food,” said Ted from Emerald City, known for Taco Tuesday nights. “There’s a limit to what we can sell customers, but if we eliminate indoor smoking then we could increase food sales if we wanted.”
Many bars are also following the trend set by New Orleans earlier this year when NOLA issued a city-wide smoking ban. Only time will tell if the rest of Pensacola will join New Orleans along with 700 cities enacting smoke-free laws city wide.
“My family has been following what’s happening in New Orleans, so the smoke-free law passed by the city played a part in our decision at Seville,” said Buck. “Seville is the heart of Downtown Pensacola so after we received a positive response to going smoke-free on social media, we felt it was time to put it in action at Seville.”
After being approached by patrons about becoming a non-smoking bar, Emerald City presented the idea of going smoke-free on their Twitter and Facebook sites. They asked if clients would prefer no smoking in The Other Side only, no smoking in the entire club, or if they’d prefer Emerald City to continue to allow smoking in the club.
“We’ve been considering the smoking ban since New Orleans went smoke-free in April,” said McCrary. “Before we decided to go smoke-free, we posed the question on our social media pages for customers to tell us what they thought. Over 80 percent were in favor of partial smoke-free.”
With an overwhelming response in favor of going smoke-free, Emerald City first banned smoking in their happy hour and video bar called The Other Side on June 18 to see how regulars reacted.
In a nutshell, how do patrons and bar staff feel about the voluntary ban?
There’s been mixed reviews but overall Pensacolians supported the idea of Emerald City and Seville going smoke-free. Although bartenders cannot smoke indoors while on duty, making the indoor smoking ban nothing new to them, many are happy about reducing their exposure to secondhand smoke. There have been a small amount of negative or neutral responses from customers who feel the ban is either inconvenient or won’t affect their decision to visit the bar, but the majority favor going smoke-free.
“I don’t believe the smoking ban will affect our bar very much right now,” explained Eric Hughson, manager of The Roundup. “We’re a locals bar and everyone who comes here knows we’re a smoking establishment.”
The Handlebar and The Roundup are among the few stand-alone bars that still allow indoor smoking.
“It depends on the crowd each night but the majority of our customers are smokers,” said Jimmy Lamar, owner of The Handlebar. “Although we have an exhaust fan to counteract the smoke for nonsmokers, we don’t find ourselves using it often.”
Many smoking bars have not jumped on the bandwagon with Emerald City and Seville because their business is supported by the patronage of regulars who enjoy having the freedom to smoke indoors.
“I’ll be happy to make The Handlebar smoke-free when the city tells us,” said Jimmy. “Or when The Z bans smoking.”
The Azalea Lounge, also called “The Z,” and Coyote’s Sports Bar are two more local bars where indoor smoking is allowed.
“Eventually smoke-free is going to come to Pensacola and we’ll have to do it,” said Eric. “But until then we’ll allow smoking in the bar because most of our clientele are heavy smokers.”