Restaurants may sue over smoking ban

RALEIGH But if a bill in the Legislature becomes a law, owners will have to choose one or the other, and that's got them in the mood to fight.

They joined with other owners at a meeting on Monday to plan strategy.

"What they're doing right now is asinine - doesn't make any sense whatsoever," offered pub owner Niall Hanley.

In its current form, the bill would make it illegal to smoke in any restaurant or workplace that allows or employs anyone under the age of 18. It was a watered-down version. The original bill prohibited smoking across the board.

The owners say the compromise version puts them in an unfair bind, either getting rid of smoking or getting rid of younger customers.

"Most of our businesses are all restaurants till about 10, 10:30 and then become a very busy late-night drinking bar. Now we have to stop that," said Hanley.

They'd rather stop the bill or have it changed back to an all-out ban.

"I think they've created this strange, uneven playing field now for restaurants, so we don't support it in its present form," said business owner Greg Hatem.

They'll be calling their lawmakers, urging their customers to do the same, and working with lobbyists.

It's unclear, though, the reception they'll get from elected officials.

"I hope and trust the Senate will gravitate back to the original version of the bill," offered Sen. Floyd McKissick, (D) Durham County:

If they don't get a change, the owner say they'll sue - claiming the age provision in the bill doesn't treat everyone, especially workers exposed to second-hand smoke, equally.

"It's okay to protect someone who's 17 but not someone who's 18? Just doesn't hold constitutional mustard as far as I'm concerned," said pub owner Gus Gusler.

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