Restaurant, bar owners in Kenton Co. have mixed reaction to smoking ban

COVINGTON, KY (FOX19) - It's been nearly two weeks since the smoking ban in Kenton County took effect, but the complaints are already rolling in.

A spokesperson for the Northern Kentucky Health Department reports the agency has received 15 complaints. Most of the complaints have been from patrons who have called the department's hotline and posted comments on their website.

No violations have been issued, yet. The county is still in the initial two-week transition phase. However, that number could remain low because dozens of drinking establishments and private clubs have been given exemptions. Seventy businesses have applied for exemptions in the last two weeks. Sixty-two have been approved. Six applications are still pending.

Some restaurant and bar owners in Covington said the exemptions are both helping and hurting their businesses.

On Wednesday night, three brothers re-discovered their old watering hole: Cosmos in Covington. The restaurant applied for and received an exemption to the new county-wide smoking ban.

"I would not go to a place that wouldn't allow me to smoke," said smoker David Lillard. "Some people don't enjoy {smoking,} and I understand that, but to say that the majority of people just can't do it? You have to go somewhere else? I don't agree with that."

Cosmos owner Gerald Blaschke is thankful for customers like Lillard.

In the last two weeks, Blaschke said his business has dropped 40-percent. He said the weather may play a part, but he said it has been difficult to spread the message of his establishment's exemption to the smoking ban, and he can't believe he has to turn away paying customers under the age of 18. That provision is a requirement of the Kenton County smoking ordinance for those applying for an exemption. Owners of exempt restaurants and private clubs must have a separate smoking section with its own air-handling system and its own entrance.

"It hasn't been good because we've turned away people who bring kids," said Blaschke. "Especially earlier in the day, but the law is the law."

Blaschke said smokers make up 90-percent of his business.

"I'm a non-smoker, but I just can't ask customers to {not smoke,} Blaschke said. "We have to do business or we'll be out."

Across the street, the signs are slightly different.

Customers at Chez Nora must leave their cigarettes at the door. Restaurant owners did not apply for an exemption.

"The results have been as I thought they would be," said Jim Gilliece, Proprietor of Chez Nora. "It's been an improvement for many aspects of our business, in particular, our jazz club on the third floor. Many people wanted to come more often, but couldn't or didn't, because it was too smoky. We have seen a little bit of a drop off at the bar, the main bar here."

Many patrons in Chez Nora seemed to agree with the law. Many, but not all. Lona Moore and her husband Don have been eating at Chez Nora for more than a decade.

"It's just so nice to come out and not have to go home and have my clothes dry-cleaned," said Lona Moore. "So yeah. I love it. "

"I think that establishments have a right to, no, actually a service, to provide smokers an environment {to eat and smoke,}" said Don Moore. "Non-smokers don't have to go there."

Blaschke said several other restaurant owners in Covington are hoping business will pick up this summer, but he's not optimistic. He believes more people are just staying home.

The Northern Kentucky Health Department will investigate all complaints. A warning will be issued for a first offense, but after that, violators will have to pay a fine.

"Even in responding to some of the complaints that we've had when we've gone out and found violations, there's been a handful of those that have been really easy to fix," said Dr. Lynne Sadler, director of the Northern Kentucky Health Department. "We've given folks the toolkit. They've posted the signs. removed the ashtrays, and they've fixed the problem right while we were there."

The second offense will cost violators $100 dollars. Third and subsequent offenses within a year will be $250.

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