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Smoking ban enforcement unclear

SHERRY MAYS, Sierra Sun

Althought there seems to be some confusion about local enforcement of the recently enacted smoking ban in bars, the law does appear to be working.

“It’s not our law to enforce,” said Nevada County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Tom Carrington. “We still aren’t clear about who is enforcing what.”

The ban, which went into effect Jan. 1, extended the smoking ban to include bars and taverns. It is intended to protect employees from second-hand smoke.

The complaint-driven law is sending mixed signals about enforcement.

“We are assisting local law enforcement,” said Pamela Satrapa of the Nevada County Tobacco Use Prevention Program. “When the sheriff’s department finally goes out to cite (violators), the (bar) owners have already been given the chance to comply.”

Satrapa said compliance takes a three-strikes approach. After the first complaint, a health department team will visit the establishment with educational material. After the second complaint, the establishment receives a warning from the department. After the third complaint, law enforcement can cite the establishment owner.

Waiting on legal counsel

It is the citation requirement that Carrington is concerned about. He said the department is waiting on advice from the Nevada County counsel about how to enforce the law.

“We don’t know what to even cite bar owners with,” he said.

Just before the new year, Satrapa said customers who were unwilling to extinguish their cigarettes were to be treated as unruly customers. Carrington said citing the owner for something an unruly customer is doing is unfair.

“The law is just confusing,” he said. “One person breaks the law by smoking and it is another person who gets cited.”

Despite the confusion, Teri Webb, who oversees the Tobacco Prevention Program said the law is clear from her department’s standpoint.

“There are clear steps to be taken,” she said. “We need local law enforcement to help.”

Carrington said that with the staff shortage staff at the NCSO Truckee Substation, enforcement of the smoking ban is not a high priority at this time.

Bar owners are not complaining. Some agree

they are doing their best to comply.

Tahoe Taps owner Davin Brown said his business isn’t tolerating any smoking.

“We got rid of our ashtrays and put up our signs like we were supposed to,” he said. “That’s all we can do.”

Brown said there has only been one night where there were any problems with people smoking.

“I walked in one morning and found cigarette butts all over the floor,” he said. “I asked the bartender what happened and he said everyone in the bar just lit up at the same time. What could he do?

“He said it was the weirdest thing he ever saw.”

Pastime owner Paul Covarelli said he hasn’t had any problems with compliance.

“People see Ray (76-year-old smoker) get up and go outside to smoke and they all follow him,” he said. “They think that if this hard-core smoker’s not complaining, why should they. It’s like a guilt trip.”

Kathy Polucha, of Nevada County Environmental Health in Truckee, said the only complaint she has received is a solid waste complaint.

“Now we are getting complaints that the downtown smokers are throwing their cigarette butts on the sidewalk,” she said. “If it’s not one thing, it’s another.”

She asked downtown bar owners to supply small sand buckets to prevent cigarettes from getting thrown on the ground.

Webb agreed the law isn’t always clear, but she said she encouraged bar owners and concerned patrons to call for information, (800) 371-6662.

Sierra Sun E-mail: sun@tahoe.com

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