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Some Bars Ignore Smoking Ban as ‘Good Business’

CHICAGO - Smoking in bars has been banned here since Jan. 1, 2008, but Crow Bar, a cozy spot on the city's far southeast side, is still a haven for people who want to light up.

Unless other customers object, owner Pat Carroll usually allows smoking. He keeps a "smoke jug" in view for $5 donations to offset fines.

"It's good business to allow smoking. It's a free country," says Carroll, owner of Crow Bar for 28 years. It's near the border with Indiana, which allows smoking in bars. He says his customers would patronize bars there if he forced them to smoke outside.

After inspectors found a souvenir ashtray behind the bar, Carroll, a smoker, paid a $340 fine. Repeat violations would mean bigger fines, which he says would make him rethink his leniency.

Twenty-six states and the District of Columbia have passed smoking bans that cover restaurants and bars, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids says. Four others ban smoking in restaurants but exempt stand-alone bars.

Most inspections and citations stem from complaints, and "non-compliance is a fairly isolated issue," says Danny McGoldrick, the group's vice president for research. "Business owners and patrons are pretty law-abiding."

Not all of them:

- Owner Judy Maxie lets customers smoke at Caddy's Lounge in Midlothian, Va., despite a law that took effect Dec. 1 and requires restaurants to allow smoking only in separately ventilated rooms.

"It's my business, and the government is not going to tell me what to do," she says.

The $25 fine is cheaper than the revenue she'd lose if she barred smoking, she says.

- Bill Comerford, owner of three Honolulu bars, tried unsuccessfully to get bars exempted from that state's ban. When customers light up, he and his staff remind them that smoking isn't allowed - but that's all they do.

"It's my business to inform the customer of the law," he says. "It's not my business to enforce the law."

- SmokeChoke.com collects readers' reports of places in Ohio that violate that state's ban. It includes more than 500 reports.

Opponents of smoking bans try novel ways to overturn them. In St. Louis, Bill Hannegan is challenging a ban set to take effect there in January 2011 by arguing that an exemption for casinos violates the state constitution. It is, he says, "very difficult to fight" foes of smoking.

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