One month on: Smoking ban wafts into effect

A month into the Cayman Islands’ smoking ban, the transition of some venues from smoky hangouts to fresh air-filled venues appears to have gone smoothly.

Despite little public education about the ban and how it can be enforced, restaurant, bar and business operators are reporting that there has been no opposition from patrons, but that confusion still reigns over exactly where an outdoor smoking area can be set up.

At the Dog House in Grand Harbour, smokers head outside to a smoking area or to picnic tables at the venue’s sister bar The Oar House beside the skate and surf park.

“We have major regulars here, they come every day. We’ve made a new spot for them outside, we put a bucket of sand there and that’s where they smoke now. They say it gets them off their feet and out into the fresh air,” said the bar’s duty manager Morgan Malewicz.

“The only problem we had was initially we told people they could smoke on our patio and then we realised it wasn’t 10 feet away, so a couple of people who’d smoked there said ‘we smoked here last week, why can’t we smoke here now?’

“But everyone knew it was coming. People have definitely made the adjustment smoothly,” she said.

The ban has also attracted new customers who previously shied away from its smoky environs – families.

“We’re seeing a lot more families come in with children. That’s a clientele we haven’t really seen before,” said  Malewicz.

She said no-one from the Department of Environmental Health or the Department of Public Health had visited the bar and restaurant, but that enough information had been available publicly to ensure the premises were ready when the ban was introduced.

Neither the police nor the Department of Environment Health – the two agencies tasked with enforcing the ban – have reported receiving any complaints about people ignoring the ban and smoking in public venues.

However, no complaints hotline has been set up and anyone who wants to report a violation of the law is unlikely to have a number on hand to call to complain.

Although there are six enforcement officers from the Department of Environmental Health, no bar or restaurant contacted by the Observer on Sunday reported seeing them on their premises to inform them of the ban and its various regulations.

Tania Johnson, a spokeswoman in the Department of Environmental Health said: “What we’re trying to do is get people to comply with the regulations and we’re not focusing on enforcement. Actually enforcement would be the job of the police.”

In the four weeks that the ban, which came into effect on 31 December, 2009, police say they have not received any calls asking them to enforce the ban.

People caught smoking in enclosed public places face a first-time fine of $2,000 and up to $10,000 for a subsequent offence. Business owners can be fined $15,000 and jailed for 12 months for not enforcing the smoking ban on their premises. They also face a fine of up to $30,000 for a subsequent offence.

Christine Sanders, a member of the board of the Cayman Islands Cancer Society, said she believed business owners and managers were still trying to figure out the intricacies of the new law.

“To the best of my knowledge, there has not been any education done for the hospitality industry… We offered to be involved and put forward suggestions on how it could be done, but did not hear anything back from [the Ministry of Health],” she said.

She added that she believed bar and restaurant owners were trying their best to comply with the law, “but there is still some confusion over it”.

Harry Lalli, who owns the Dog House, Brick House and Oar House, as well as Treasure Island, said customers quickly accepted the ban. “I’m very impressed with the way people who smoke have been responding to it. We’ve had no problems and don’t really even have to tell people they can’t smoke. They seem to automatically know they can’t smoke inside.”

However, he admitted there remained some confusion for bars with outdoor areas, like Treasure Island and Royal Palms and other venues in Cayman. “The smoking area is supposed to be 10 feet from the entrance, but what if there’s no single entrance?” he asked.

Arthur Screaton, manager of George Town harbourfront bar Rackam’s, the Lone Star bar on West Bay Road and Mexican restaurant Carlos and Martin in Seven Mile Shops, said it was too early to tell if the ban had affected any of these businesses.

He has set up a small outdoor bar at Lone Star to accommodate smokers, who can also smoke on part of the bar’s outdoor patio, and smoking is allowed at Rackam’s because it is an outdoor venue, he said. Carlos and Martin have two tables outside that are 10 feet from the restaurant’s entrance.

“It’s really early days. People are in a habit of going to certain places and they don’t change their habits quickly,” he said.

While business was up slightly at Rackam’s, he said it was impossible to know if that was due to the fact that people can smoke there.

But like other business operators, he acknowledged that customers were policing themselves and adhering to the ban.

“A lot of people say they’ll use it to help them kick the habit. And a lot of people come from countries where there are already smoking bans… and have experienced those glass smoking cages at airports.

“There’s been talk about this smoking ban for a few years, so people knew it was coming. It wasn’t a shock. There’s been no massive opposition to it,” he said.