Although called the indoor clean air act, some local bar owners are catching flak due to people smoking outside their establishments. Apparently, the law’s definition of indoors extends 25 feet from any entrance.
Robert Eddington, owner of Murphy’s Bar and Grill at 160 S. Main, received a complaint from the Salt Lake Valley Health Department for “letting customers smoke within 25 feet of the door entrance.” It was a pretty vexing charge for Eddington, who says the person smoking too close to the bar wasn’t actually a patron, but a passer-by.
Despite attempts to modernize Salt Lake City’s downtown nightlife, the staff of Murphy’s feel they’ve been stuck with an unfair complaint. For manager Steve Evans, it doesn’t help that the bar is so close to Temple Square.
“I think they give us a harder time just because we’re so close to Mormon Disneyland ,” he says.
Ironically, what attracted the complaint from the Health Department was not the smokers, but an attempt by the bar’s staff to prevent cigarette butts from littering the sidewalk. “It seems the complaint was the ashtray, so I threw the ashtray in the dumpster,” says Eddington. “Now that they have done their due diligence and saved the city from an ashtray, people can throw their cigarette butts on the sidewalk, in the planter boxes or in the gutter.”
As businesses are adjusting to the smoking ban, it’s not uncommon to find butts littering sidewalks just outside the doors of many bars and clubs. Eddington received no fine for the violation, but he’s still dumbfounded by the Health Department’s logic in citing the ashtray, saying that if they had asked him to move the ashtray farther from the building he would have done so.
According to Diane Keay, an area supervisor with the Salt Lake Valley Health Department, Eddington could have kept his ashtray, but, by Utah statute, for it to be within 25 feet of the bar entrance it would have to carry with it a label identifying it as being placed in a no smoking area. This is news to Eddington, since the complaint only notes “ashtray outside of door.”
Even with an ashtray, Eddington wonders how he’s supposed to police the people who smoke in front of his bar. “I don’t have a badge. I can’t be out bossing around people on a public thoroughfare. I didn’t sign up for that.”
But according to Keay and Utah statute, Eddington, like all other bar owners, did sign-up to police smoking outside their establishment, whether they realize it or not.
“That’s his indoor air protection zone,” Keay says. “It’s his responsibility to keep it clean. It’s always the responsibility of the property owner where the problem exists.”
Keay says she’s noticed an up-tick in these types of complaints since smoking was prohibited in bars in January. “Each time a new group has come under the umbrella of the indoor clean air act, we go though a learning curve. [Bar owners] should have gone through this back in January, but the whole thing loses its importance in the summer. Then, in the winter, just because people don’t want to stand out in the snow, it becomes an issue again.”
The other issue is exactly where smoking is allowed. For Murphy’s, their “zone” puts smokers near the curb. For other bars, defending their “protection zone” likely would push smokers into the middle of the street. For example, at the Beerhive, 128 S. Main, 25 feet from their entrance means their smoking customers would have to stand in the gutter or street.
Lumpy’s Downtown sports bar has very little sidewalk in front of it and no patio, a situation that’s a pain for manager Kellen Carsey when it comes to accommodating smokers at the bar.
“The problem is more of a hassle for our front door guy dealing with a smoking area and all the people coming in and out,” Carsey says.
Despite the difficulties, Keay says more bars will just have to get used to protecting their zone. “Eventually all the bars will get the message and then get in line,” she says.