Source: San Jose Mercury News Contact: Wed, 11 Feb 1998 Author: Timm Herdt SMOKE MEASURE DRAWS FIRE Health groups decry bill OK'd by Assembly SACRAMENTO -- The state's health lobby, caught off guard by the Assembly's vote to suspend California's ban on smoking in bars, came back fighting Tuesday, announcing a full-scale effort to defeat the bill in the Senate. ``We are appalled that the Assembly has kowtowed to the wishes and manipulation of the tobacco industry,'' said Alan Henderson, president of the state division of the American Cancer Society. ``We demand that the Senate kill AB 297. It is a bogus bill, and it will harm California workers.'' Henderson was joined by representatives of the American Heart Association, the American Lung Association, the California Medical Association, the California Nurses Association and the state Labor Federation. All said they would rally members to lobby their senators against the bill. AB 297, passed by the Assembly two weeks ago, would suspend the state's 6-week-old ban on smoking in bars and gambling establishments. The suspension would last for two years or until state occupational health experts develop standards for ventilation systems that would protect workers from secondhand smoke. The vote was hailed by tobacco-industry-sponsored smokers' rights groups as a legislative response to a chorus of complaints about the new law. But the health groups assert that criticism of -- and resistance to -- the new law has been orchestrated by the tobacco industry and overblown in the media. ``People like this law; it's working,'' said Carolyn Martin of the American Lung Association. She cited formal surveys that show high compliance rates in San Diego and San Mateo counties and an informal canvass she made of Sacramento sports bars over the weekend. ``They tell me that business isn't down and patrons are happy to have clean air,'' she said. News reports from around the state, however, paint a slightly different picture. Enforcement in a number of counties has clearly been spotty, and there have been isolated cases of bar owners openly defying the law. In addition, there have been widespread complaints from operators of charitable bingo games that the smoking ban has driven away patrons. Martin acknowledged the law might be having an adverse effect on some stand-alone bars but said such mom-and-pop taverns are only a small part of the overall picture. Of the 36,000 licensed bars in California, 89 percent are bar-restaurant combinations. ``Some stand-alone bars may be hurting,'' Martin said. ``But that's not what we're talking about. They are a tiny minority.'' The group said it is too soon to determine the economic consequences of the law on liquor sales at bars.