Smoking ban may present hard choices

RALEIGH At Players Retreat near NC State, the staff has been mopping up, getting ready for the daily lunch crowd. The restaurant has always been kid-friendly and smoker-friendly.

Now, owner Gus Gusler may have to choose one or the other and neither is a good option.

"It's just not fair," Gusler said.

The State House made history Thursday when it passed legislation banning smoking in most restaurants and workplaces. The exception is businesses that don't serve or employ people under the age of 18 -- primarily bars -- can still have a smoking section.

That leaves business owners like Gusler in a bad spot.

"I'm gonna have to make an economic decision, saying no one can come here under 18 and allow people to smoke, which is completely against the tradition of the place of being a family place," Gusler explained. "Or say no smoking, keep my families, and I'm gonna go out of business."

Gusler said he is hardly a smoking advocate because cigarettes killed his mom. He even supported the original bill, which proposed a ban in all public places.

"None of us want smoking in our restaurants and bars," Gusler said. "We'd much prefer to not allow it, but you can't take it away from us and let somebody else do it and take business away from us."

Even some of those who won't lose business are upset with the bill. That includes the folks at Tobacco Road Sports Cafe, which is already smoke-free.

"Just as we have the right to choose to be non-smoking, we feel business owners have the right to be smoking," said Darren Birt, restaurant manager.

Now that the bill has passed the House, it will go into the Senate. Leaders there tell Eyewitness News they expect it will have "significant support."

Perhaps it will have support at the Legislature, but it certainly doesn't have support amongst many of those whose businesses may depend on it.

Gusler said he and a couple dozen restaurant and pub owners will meet Monday to discuss what to do next. He said if the bill becomes law as is, he will sue, claiming his constitutional right to equal protection under the law is violated.

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