PORTLAND — City public health officials have launched an initiative to ban smoking in Portland restaurants — a move they say will protect nonsmokers from dangerous secondhand smoke.
But some restaurant owners oppose the ban, fearing it could drive away customers.
The ordinance, as now written, would prohibit smoking in Portland’s more than 200 restaurants — except in those with enclosed, ventilated smoking areas. Bars would be exempt from the rule, unless they were part of a restaurant.
“Smoking is the single-most-preventable cause of death and disease,” city health director Ann Elderkin said Tuesday. “So what we’re saying is, we’re not going to let our kids buy cigarettes and we’re going to have clean indoor air everywhere the public goes.”
The health department conducted a poll in November to gauge support for the ordinance. The poll of 300 Portland adults found that 69 percent believed the city should make restaurants smoke-free and 23 percent said they would eat out more often if such a rule were imposed.
Some restaurant owners resent the health initiative. “This is not an issue between smokers and non- smokers,” said Steve Harris, owner of two establishments, Rosie’s and Ruski’s Tavern. “It’s a very vocal minority called the anti-smokers who just seek to impose what they think is right on everybody.”
Harris said his restaurants are too small to encompass separate smoking rooms that could cost between $25,000 and $50,000 to build.
Restaurant owners also are concerned that the rule would give bar owners — who are required by state law to serve food but would be exempt from the smoking ban — an unfair advantage over restaurants.
The ordinance is scheduled to go before the City Council in March. If adopted, it would be stricter than Maine law, which requires only that restaurants set aside non- smoking sections.